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The Consolation 
of Philosophy 












(Boethius bewails his changed circumstances.) 

"To pleasant songs my work was erstwhile given, and bright 
were all my labours then ; but now in tears to sad refrains am 
I compelled to turn. Thus my maimed Muses guide my pen, 
and gloomy songs make no feigned tears bedew my face. Then 
could no fear so overcome to leave me companionless upon 
my way. They were the pride of my earlier bright-lived days: 
in my later gloomy days they are the comfort of my fate ; for 
hastened by unhappiness has age come upon me without warn- 
ing, and grief hath set within me the old age of her gloom. 
White hairs are scattered untimely on my head, and the skin 
hangs loosely from my worn-out limbs. 

"Happy is that death which thrusts not itself upon men in 
their pleasant years, yet comes to them at the oft-repeated cry 
of their sorrow. Sad is it how death turns away from the un- 
happy with so deaf an ear, and will not close, cruel, the eyes 
that weep. Ill is it to trust to Fortune's fickle bounty, and 
while yet she smiled upon me, the hour of gloom had well- 
nigh overwhelmed my head. Now has the cloud put off its 
alluring face, wherefore without scruple my life drags out its 
wearying delays. 

"Why, O my friends, did ye so often puff me up, telling me 
that I was fortunate? For he that is fallen low did never firmly 

(Philosophy approaches Boethius: 
the form of her appearance is allegorical.) 

While I was pondering thus in silence, and using my pen to 
set down so tearful a complaint, there appeared standing over 


4 Boethius 

my head a woman's form, whose countenance was full of maj- 
esty, whose eyes shown as with fire and in power of insight 
surpassed the eyes of men, whose colour was full of life, whose 
strength was yet intact though she was so full of years that 
none would ever think that she was subject to such age as ours. 
One could but doubt her varying stature, for at one moment 
she repressed it to the common measure of a man, at another 
she seemed to touch with her crown the very heavens: and 
when she had raised higher her head, it pierced even the sky 
and baffled the sight of those who would look upon it. Her 
clothing was wrought of the finest thread by subtle workman- 
ship brought to an indivisible piece. This had she woven with 
her own hands, as I afterwards did learn by her own shewing. 
Their beauty was somewhat dimmed by the dulness of long 
neglect, as is seen in the smoke-grimed masks of our ancestors. 
On the border below was inwoven the symbol n, on that above 
was to be read a 6. 1 And between the two letters there could 
be marked degrees, by which, as by the rungs of a ladder, 
ascent might be made from the lower principle to the higher. 
Yet the hands of rough men had torn this garment and 
snatched such morsels as they could therefrom. In her right 
hand she carried books, in her left was a sceptre brandished. 
When she saw that the Muses of poetry \tere present by 
my couch giving words to my lamenting, she was stirred a 
while; her eyes flashed fiercely, and said she, "Who has suf- 
fered these seducing mummers to approach this sick man? 
Never do they support those in sorrow by any healing rem- 
edies, but rather do ever foster the sorrow by poisonous sweets. 
These are they who stifle the fruit-bearing harvest of reason 
with the barren briars of the passions: they free not the minds 
of men from disease, but accustom them thereto. I would think 
it less grievous if your allurements drew away from me some 
uninitiated man, as happens in the vulgar herd. In such an 
one my labours would be naught harmed, but this man has 
been nourished in the lore of Eleatics and Academics; and to 

1 IE and 9 are the first letters of the Greek words denoting Practical 
and Theoretical, the two divisions of philosophy. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 5 

him have ye reached? Away with you, Sirens, seductive unto 
destruction! leave him to my Muses to be cared for and to be 

Their band thus rated cast a saddened glance upon the 
ground, confessing their shame in blushes, and passed forth 
dismally over the threshold. For my part, my eyes were 
dimmed with tears, and I could not discern who was this 
woman of such commanding power. I was amazed, and turn- 
ing my eyes to the ground I began in silence to await what 
she should do. Then she approached nearer and sat down upon 
the end of my couch: she looked into my face heavy with grief 
and cast down by sorrow to the ground, and then she raised 
her complaint over the trouble of my mind in these words. 

"Ah me! how blunted grows the mind when sunk below the 
overwhelming flood! Its own true light no longer burns within, 
and it would break forth to outer darknesses. How often care, 
when fanned by earthly winds, grows to a larger and un- 
measured bane. This man has been free to the open heaven: 
his habit has it been to wander into the paths of the sky: his 
to watch the light of the bright sun, his to inquire into the 
brightness of the chilly moon; he, like a conqueror, held fast 
bound in its order every star that makes its wandering circle, 
turning its peculiar course. Nay, more, deeply has he searched 
into the springs of nature, whence came the roaring blasts 
that ruffle the ocean's bosom calm: what is the spirit that 
makes the firmament revolve; wherefore does the evening 
star sink into the western wave but to rise from the radiant 
East; what is the cause which so tempers the season of Spring 
that it decks the earth with rose-blossoms; whence comes it 
to pass that Autumn is prolific in the years of plenty and 
overflows with teeming vines: deeply to search these causes 
was his wont, and to bring forth secrets deep in Nature hid. 

"Now he lies there; extinct his reason's light, his neck in 
heavy chains thrust down, his countenance with grievous 
weight downcast; ah! the brute earth is all he can behold. 

6 Boethius 

"But now," said she, "is the time for the physician's art, 
rather than for complaining." Then fixing her eyes wholly on 
me, she said, "Are you the man who was nourishecl upon the 
milk of my learning, brought up with my food until you had 
won your way to the power of a manly soul? Surely I had 
given you such weapons as would keep you safe, and your 
strength unconquered; if you had not thrown them away. Do 
you know me? Why do you keep silence? Are you dumb from 
shame or from dull amazement? I would it were from shame, 
but I see that amazement has overwhelmed you." 

When she saw that I was not only silent, but utterly tongue- 
tied and dumb, she put her hand gently upon my breast, and 
said, "There is no danger: he is suffering from drowsiness, 
that disease which attacks so many minds which have been 
deceived. He has forgotten himself for a moment and will 
quickly remember, as soon as he recognises me. That he may 
do so, let me brush away from his eyes the darkening cloud 
of thoughts of matters perishable." So saying, she gathered 
her robe into a fold and dried my swimming eyes. 

Then was dark night dispelled, the shadows fled away, and 
my eyes received returning power as before. 'Twas just as 
when the heavenly bodies are enveloped by the west wind's 
rush, and the sky stands thick with watery clouds; the sun is 
hidden and the stars are not yet come into the sky, and night 
descending from above o'erspreads the earth: but if the north 
wind smites this scene, launched forth from the Thracian cave, 
it unlocks the imprisoned daylight; the sun shines forth, and 
thus sparkling Phoebus smites with his rays our wondering 

(Boethius gains power to address Philosophy.) 

In such a manner were the clouds of grief scattered. Then 
I drew breath again and engaged my mind in taking knowl- 
edge of my physician's countenance. So when I turned my eyes 
towards her and fixed my gaze upon her, I recognised my 
nurse, Philosophy, in whose chambers I had spent my life from 

The Consolation of Philosophy 7 

earliest manhood. And I asked her, "Wherefore have you, 
mistress of all virtues, come down from heaven above to visit 
my lonely place of banishment? Is it that you, as well as I, 
may be harried, the victim of false charges?" "Should I," said 
she, "desert you, my nursling? 

(Philosophy chides his lack of courage.) 

Should I not share and bear my part of the burden which has 
been laid upon you from spite against my name? Surely Philos- 
ophy never allowed herself to let the innocent go upon their 
journey unbefriended. Think you I would fear calumnies? That 
I would be terrified as though they were a new misfortune? 
Think you that this is the first time that wisdom has been har- 
assed by dangers among men of shameless ways? In ancient 
days before the time of my child, Plato, have we not as well as 
nowadays fought many a mighty battle against the reckless- 
ness of folly? And though Plato did survive, did not his master, 
Socrates, win his victory of an unjust death, with me present at 
his side? When after him the followers of Epicurus, and in turn 
the Stoics, and then others did all try their utmost to seize his 
legacy, they dragged me, for all my cries and struggles, as 
though to share me as plunder; they tore my robe which I 
had woven with mine own hands, and snatched away the frag- 
ments thereof: and when they thought I had altogether yielded 
myself to them, they departed. And since among them were 
to be seen certain signs of my outward bearing, others ill-ad- 
vised did think they wore my livery: thus were many of them 
undone by the errors of the herd of uninitiated. But if you 
have not heard of the exile of Anaxagoras, 1 nor the poison 
drunk by Socrates, 8 nor the torture of Zeno, 8 which all were 
of foreign lands, yet you may know of Camus,* Seneca, 5 and 

1 Anaxagoras went into exile from Athens about 450 B.C. 

9 Socrates was executed by the Athenian state, B.C. 309. 

8 Zeno of Elea was tortured by Nearchus, tyrant of Elea, about 440 B.C. 

4 Canius was put to death by Caligula, c. A.D. 40. 

"Seneca was driven to commit suicide by Nero, A.D. 65. 

8 Boethius 

Soranus, 1 whose fame is neither small nor passing old. Naught 
else brought them to ruin but that, being built up in my ways, 
they appeared at variance with the desires of unscrupulous 
men. So it is no matter for your wonder if^in this sea of life, 
we are tossed about by storms from all sides; for to oppose 
evil men is the chief aim we set before ourselves. Though the 
band of such men is great in numbers, yet it is to be con- 
temned: for it is guided by no leader, but is hurried along at 
random only by error running riot everywhere. If this band 
when warring against us presses too strongly upon us, our 
leader, Reason, gathers her forces into her citadel, while the 
enemy are busied in plundering useless baggage. As they seize 
the most worthless things, we laugh at them from above, un- 
troubled by the whole band of mad marauders, and we are 
defended by that rampart to which riotous folly may not hope 
to attain. 

"He who has calmly reconciled his life to fate, and set 
proud death beneath his feet, can look fortune in the face, 
unbending both to good and bad: his countenance uncon- 
quered he can shew. The rage and threatenings of the sea will 
not move him though they stir from its depths the upheaving 
swell: Vesuvius's furnaces may never so often burst forth, and 
he may send rolling upwards smoke and fire; the lightning, 
whose wont it is to smite down lofty towers, may flash upon 
its way, but such men shall they never move. Why then stand 
they wretched and aghast when fierce tyrants rage in im- 
potence? Fear naught, and hope naught: thus shall you have 
a weak man's rage disarmed. But whoso fears with trembling, 
or desires aught from them, he stands not firmly rooted, but 
dependent: thus has he thrown away his shield; he can be 
rooted up, and he links for himself the very chain whereby he 
may be dragged. 

"Are such your experiences, and do they sink into your 
soul?" she asked. "Do you listen only as 'the dull ass to the 

1 Soranus was condemned to death by Nero, AD. 66. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 9 

lyre'? Why do you weep? Wherefore flow your tears? 'Speak, 
nor keep secret in thine heart/ If you expect a physician to 
help you, you must lay bare your wound." 

(Boethius complains to Philosophy of his sufferings after his just 


Then did I rally my spirit till it was strong again, and 
answered, "Does the savage bitterness of my fortune still 
need recounting? Does it not stand forth plainly enough of 
itself? Does not the very aspect of this place strike you? Is 
this the library which you had chosen for yourself as your 
sure resting-place in my house? Is this the room in which you 
would so often tarry with me expounding the philosophy of 
things human and divine? Was my condition like this, or my 
countenance, when I probed with your aid the secrets of na- 
ture, when you marked out with a wand the courses of the 
stars, when you shaped our habits and the rule of all our life 
by the pattern of the universe? 1 Are these the rewards we reap 
by yielding ourselves to you? Nay, you yourself have estab- 
lished this saying by the mouth of Plato, that commonwealths 
would be blessed if they were guided by those who made wis- 
dom their study, or if those who guided them would make 
wisdom their study. 8 By the mouth of that same great man did 
you teach that this was the binding reason why a common- 
wealth should be governed by philosophers, namely that the 
helm of government should not be left to unscrupulous or crim- 
inal citizens lest they should bring corruption and ruin upon 
the good citizens. 8 Since, then, I had learned from you in quiet 
and inaction of this view, I followed it further, for I desired to 
practise it in public government. You and God Himself, who 
has grafted you in the minds of philosophers, are my witnesses 
that never have I applied myself to any office of state except 
that I might work for the common welfare of all good men. 

1 Boethius means that his chief "philosophical" studies had been 
physics, astronomy, and ethics. 
Plato, Repub. v. 473. 
Plato, Repub. vi. 488, 489. 

io Boethius 

Thence followed bitter quarrels with evil men which could not 
be appeased, and, for the sake of preserving justice, contempt 
of the enmity of those in power, for this is the result of a free 
and fearless conscience. How often have I withstood Coni- 
gastus 1 to his face, whenever he has attacked a weak man's 
fortune! How often have I turned by force Trigulla, 1 the over- 
seer of the Emperor's household, from an unjust act that he 
had begun or even carried out! How many times have I put 
my own authority in danger by protecting those wretched 
people who were harried with unending false charges by the 
greed of barbarian Goths which ever went unpunished ! Never, 
I say, has any man depraved me from justice to injustice. My 
heart has ached as bitterly as those of the sufferers when I have 
seen the fortunes of our subjects ruined both by the rapacity 
of persons and the taxes of the state. Again, in a time of 
severe famine, a grievous, intolerable sale by compulsion was 
decreed in Campania, and devastation threatened that 
province. Then I undertook for the sake of the common wel- 
fare a struggle against the commander of the Imperial guard ; 
though the king was aware of it, I fought against the enforce- 
ment of the sale, and fought successfully. Paulinus was a man 
who had been consul: the jackals of the court had in their 
own hopes and desires already swallowed up his possessions, 
but I snatched him from their very gaping jaws. I exposed 
myself to the hatred of the treacherous informer Cyprian, that 
I might prevent Albinus, also a former consul, being over- 
whelmed by the penalty of a trumped-up charge. Think you 
that I have raised up against myself bitter and great quarrels 
enough? But I ought to have been safer among those whom 
I helped; for, from my love of justice, I laid up for myself 
among the courtiers no resource to which I might turn for 
safety. Who, further, were the informers upon whose evidence 
I was banished? One was Basilius: he was formerly expelled 
from the royal service, and was driven by debt to inform 

1 Conigastus and Trigulla were favourite officers of the Emperor, 
Theodoric, the Goth: they used their influence with him for the oppres- 
sion of the weak. 

The Consolation oj Philosophy 1 1 

against me. Again, Opilio and Gaudentius had been con- 
demned to exile by the king for many unjust acts and crimes: 
this decree they would not obey, and they sought sanctuary in 
sacred buildings, but when the king was aware of it, he de- 
clared that if they departed not from Ravenna before a certain 
day, they should be driven forth branded upon their fore- 
heads. What could be more stringent than this? Yet upon that 
very day information against me was laid by these same men 
and accepted. Why so? Did my character deserve this treat- 
ment? Or did my prearranged condemnation give credit and 
justification to my accusers? Did Fortune feel no shame for 
this? If not for innocence calumniated, at any rate for the 
baseness of the calumniators? 

"Would you learn the sum of the charges against me? It 
was said that 'I had desired the safety of the Senate.' You 
would learn in what way. I was charged with 'having hindered 
an informer from producing papers by which the Senate could 
be accused of treason.' What think you, my mistress? Shall I 
deny it lest it shame you? Nay, I did desire the safety of the 
Senate, nor shall ever cease to desire it. Shall I confess it? 
Then there would have been no need to hinder an informer. 
Shall I call it a crime to have wished for the safety of that 
order? By its own decrees concerning myself it has established 
that this is a crime. Though want of foresight often deceives 
itself, it cannot alter the merits of facts, and, in obedience to 
the Senate's command, I cannot think it right to hide the 
truth or to assent to falsehood. 

"However, I leave it to your judgment and that of philoso- 
phers to decide how the justice of this may be; but I have 
committed to writing for history the true course of events, 
that posterity may not be ignorant thereof. I think it unneces- 
sary to speak of the forged letters through which I am accused 
of 'hoping for the freedom of Rome. 7 Their falsity would have 
been apparent if I had been free to question the evidence of 
the informers themselves, for their confessions have much 
force in all such business. 

"But what avails it? No liberty is left to hope for. Would 

12 Boethius 

there were any! I would answer in the words of Canius, who 
was accused by Gaius Caesar, 1 Germanicus's son, of being 
cognisant of a plot against himself: 'If I had known of it, you 
would not have.' 

"And in this matter grief has not so blunted my powers that 
I should complain of wicked men making impious attacks 
upon virtue: but at this I do wonder, that they should hope 
to succeed. Evil desires are, it may be, due to our natural fail- 
ings, but that the conceptions of any wicked mind should pre- 
vail against innocence while God watches over us, seems to me 
unnatural. Wherefore not without cause has one of your own 
followers asked, 'If God is, whence come evil things? If He 
is not, whence come good?' 

"Again, let impious men, who thirst for the blood of the 
whole Senate and of all good citizens, be allowed to wish for 
the ruin of us too whom they recognise as champions of the 
Senate and all good citizens: but surely such as I have not 
deserved the same hatred from the members of the Senate too? 

"Since you were always present to guide me in my words 
and my deeds, I think you remember what happened at 
Verona. When King Theodoric, desiring the common ruin of 
the Senate, was for extending to the whole order the charge 
of treason laid against Albinus, you remember how I laboured 
to defend the innocence of the order without any care for my 
own danger? You know that I declare this truthfully and with 
no boasting praise of self. For the secret value of a conscience, 
that approves its own action, is lessened somewhat each time 
that it receives the reward of fame by displaying its deeds. But 
you see what end has fallen upon my innocency. In the place of 
the rewards of honest virtue, I am suffering the punishments 
of an ill deed that was not mine. And did ever any direct con- 
fession of a crime find its judges so well agreed upon exercising 
harshness, that neither the liability of the human heart to err, 
nor the changeableness of the fortune of all mankind, could 
yield one dissentient voice? If it had been said that I had 
wished to burn down temples, to murder with sacrilegious 

1 The Emperor Caligula. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 13 

sword their priests, that I had planned the massacre of all 
good citizens, even so I should have been present to plead 
guilty or to be convicted, before the sentence was executed. 
But here am I, nearly five hundred miles away, without the 
opportunity of defending myself, condemned to death and the 
confiscation of my property because of my too great zeal for 
the Senate. Ah! well have they deserved that none should ever 
be liable to be convicted on such a charge! Even those who laid 
information have seen the honour of this accusation, for, that 
they might blacken it with some criminal ingredient, they 
had need to lie, saying that I had violated my conscience by 
using unholy means to obtain offices corruptly. But you, by 
being planted within me, dispelled from the chamber of my 
soul all craving for that which perishes, and where your eyes 
were looking there could be no place for any such sacrilege. 
For you instilled into my ears, and thus into my daily 
thoughts, that saying of Pythagoras, ' Follow after God.' Nor 
was it seemly that I, whom you had built up to such excel- 
lence that you made me as a god, should seek the support of 
the basest wills of men. Yet, further, the innocent life within 
my home, my gathering of most honourable friends, my father- 
in-law Symmachus, 1 a man esteemed no less in his public life 
than for his private conscientiousness, these all put far from 
me all suspicion of this crime. But the shame of it! it is 
from you that they think they derive the warrant for such a 
charge, and we seem to them to be allied to ill-doing from this 
very fact that we are steeped in the principles of your teaching, 
and trained in your manners of life. Thus it is not enough 
that my deep respect for you has profited me nothing, but you 
yourself have received wanton contumely from the hatred 
that had rather fallen on me. Yet besides this, is another load 
added to my heap of woes: the judgment of the world looks 
not to the deserts of the case, but to the evolution of chance, 
and holds that only this has been intended which good for- 
tune may chance to foster: whence it comes that the good 
opinion of the world is the first to desert the unfortunate. It 

1 Symmachus was executed by Theodoric at the same time as Boethius. 

14 Boethius 

is wearisome to recall what were the tales by people told, 
or how little their many various opinions agreed. This alone 
I would fain say: it is the last burden laid upon us by unkind 
fortune, that when any charge is invented to be fastened upon 
unhappy men, they are believed to have deserved all they have 
to bear. For kindness I have received persecutions; I have 
been driven from all my possessions, stripped of my honours, 
and stained for ever in my reputation. I think I see the intoxi- 
cation of joy in the sin-steeped dens of criminals: I see the 
most abandoned of men intent upon new and evil schemes of 
spying: I see honest men lying crushed with the fear which 
smites them after the result of my perilous case: wicked men 
one and all encouraged to dare every crime without fear of 
punishment, nay, with hope of rewards for the accomplish- 
ment thereof: the innocent I see robbed not merely of their 
peace and safety, but even of all chance of defending them- 
selves. So then I may cry aloud: 

"Founder of the star-studded universe, resting on Thine 
eternal throne whence Thou turnest the swiftly rolling sky, 
and bindest the stars to keep Thy law; at Thy word the moon 
now shines brightly with full face, ever turned to her brother's 
light, and so she dims the lesser lights; or now she is herself 
obscured, for nearer to the sun her beams shew her pale horns 
alone. Cool rises the evening star at night's first drawing nigh: 
the same is the morning star who casts off the harness that she 
bore before, and paling meets the rising sun. When winter's 
cold doth strip the trees, Thou settest a shorter span to day. 
And Thou, when summer comes to warm, dost change the 
short divisions of the night. Thy power doth order the seasons 
of the year, so that the western breeze of spring brings back 
the leaves which winter's north wind tore away; so that the 
dog-star's heat makes ripe the ears of corn whose seed Arc- 
turus watched. Naught breaks that ancient law: naught leaves 
undone the work appointed to its place. Thus all things Thou 
dost rule with limits fixed: the lives of men alone dost Thou 
-scorn to restrain, as a guardian, within bounds. For why does 

The Consolation of Philosophy 15 

Fortune with her fickle hand deal out such changing lots? The 
hurtful penalty is due to crime, but falls upon the sinless head: 
depraved men rest at ease on thrones aloft, and by their unjust 
lot can spurn beneath their hurtful heel the necks of virtuous 
men. Beneath obscuring shadows lies bright virtue hid: the 
just man bears the unjust's infamy. They suffer not for for- 
sworn oaths, they suffer not for crimes glozed over with their 
lies. But when their will is to put forth their strength, with 
triumph they subdue the mightiest kings whom peoples in 
their thousands fear. O Thou who dost weave the bonds of 
Nature's self, look down upon this pitiable earth! Mankind 
is no base part of this great work, and we are tossed on For- 
tune's wave. Restrain, our Guardian, the engulfing surge, and 
as Thou dost the unbounded heaven rule, with a like bond 
make true and firm these lands." 

(Philosophy reassures him.) 

While I grieved thus in long-drawn pratings, Philosophy 
looked on with a calm countenance, not one whit moved by 
my complaints. Then said she, "When I saw you in grief and 
in tears I knew thereby that you were unhappy and in exile, 
but I knew not how distant was your exile until your speech 
declared it. But you have not been driven so far from your 
home; you have wandered thence yourself: or if you would 
rather hold that you have been driven, you have been driven 
by yourself rather than by any other. No other could have 
done so to you. For if you recall your true native country, 
you know that it is not under the rule of the many-headed 
people, as was Athens of old, but there is one Lord, one King, 
who rejoices in the greater number of his subjects, not in their 
banishment. To be guided by his reins, to bow to his justice, 
is the highest liberty. Know you not that sacred and ancient 
law of your own state by which it is enacted that no man, 
who would establish a dwelling-place for himself therein, may 
lawfully be put forth? For there is no fear that any man 
should merit exile, if he be kept safe therein by its protecting 
walls. But any man that may no longer wish to dwell there, 

1 6 Boethius 

does equally no longer deserve to be there. Wherefore it is your 
looks rather than the aspect of this place which disturb me. 1 
It is not the walls of your library, decked with ivory and glass, 
that I need, but rather the resting-place in your heart, wherein 
I have not stored books, but I have of old put that which 
gives value to books, a store of thoughts from books of mine. 
As to your services to the common weal, you have spoken 
truly, though but scantily, if you consider your manifold 
exertions. Of all wherewith you have been charged either 
truthfully or falsely, you have but recorded what is well 
known. As for the crimes and wicked lies of the informers, you 
have rightly thought fit to touch but shortly thereon, for they 
are better and more fruitfully made common in the mouth 
of the crowd that discusses all matters. You have loudly and 
strongly upbraided the unjust ingratitude of the Senate: you 
have grieved over the charges made against myself, and shed 
tears over the insult to my fair fame: your last outburst of 
wrath was against Fortune, when you complained that she 
paid no fair rewards according to deserts: finally, you have 
prayed with passionate Muse that the same peace and order, 
that are seen in the heavens, might also rule the earth. But you 
are overwhelmed by this variety of mutinous passions: grief, 
rage, and gloom tear your mind asunder, and so in this present 
mood stronger measures cannot yet come nigh to heal you. 
Let us therefore use gentler means, and since, just as matter 
in the body hardens into a swelling, so have these disquieting 
influences, let these means soften by kindly handling the 
unhealthy spot, until it will bear a sharper remedy. 

"When the sign of the crab doth scorch the field, fraught 
with the sun's most grievous rays, the husbandman that has 
freely intrusted his seed to the fruitless furrow, is cheated by 
the faithless harvest-goddess; and he must turn him to the 
oak tree's fruit. 

"When the field is scarred by the bleak north winds, 
wouldst thou seek the wood's dark carpet to gather violets? 

*Cp., p. 9. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 17 

If thou wilt enjoy the grapes, wouldst them seek with clutch- 
ing hand to prune the vines in spring? 'Tis in autumn Bacchus 
brings his gifts. Thus God marks out the times and fits to 
them peculiar works: He has set out a course of change, and 
lets no confusion come. If aught betake itself to headlong 
ways, and leaves its sure design, ill will the outcome be thereto. 

"First then," she continued, "will you let me find out and 
make trial of the state of your mind by a few small questions, 
so that I may understand what should be the method of your 

"Ask," said I, "what your judgment would have you ask, 
and I will answer you." 

Then said she, "Think you that this universe is guided only 
at random and by mere chance? Or think you there is any 
rule of reason constituted in it?" 

"No, never would I think it could be so, nor believe that 
such sure motions could be made at random or by chance. I 
know that God, the founder of the universe, does overlook 
His work ; nor ever may that day come which shall drive me 
to abandon this belief as untrue." 

"So is it," she said, "and even so you cried just now, and 
only mourned that mankind alone has no part in this divine 
guardianship: you were fixed in your belief that all other 
things are ruled by reason. Yet, how strange! how much I 
wonder how it is that you can be so sick though you are set 
in such a health-giving state of mind! But let us look deeper 
into it: I cannot but think there is something lacking. Since 
you are not in doubt that the universe is ruled by God, tell me 
by what method you think that government is guided?" 

"I scarcely know the meaning of your question; much less 
can I answer it." 

"Was I wrong," said she, "to think that something was 
lacking, that there was some opening in your armour, some 
way by which this distracting disease has crept into your 
soul? But tell me, do you remember what is the aim and end 
of all things? What the object to which all nature tends?" 

1 8 Boethius 

"I have heard indeed, but grief has blunted my memory." 

"But do you not somehow know whence all things have 
their source?" 

"Yes," I said; "that source is God." 

"Is it possible that you, who know the beginning of all 
things, should not know their end? But such are the ways 
of these distractions, such is their power, that though they 
can move a man's position, they cannot pluck him from him- 
self or wrench him from his roots. But this question would I 
have you answer: do you remember that you are a man?" 

"How can I but remember that?" 

"Can you then say what is a man?" 

"Need you ask? I know that he is an animal, reasoning 
and mortal; that I know, and that I confess myself to be." 

"Know you naught else that you are?" asked Philosophy. 

"Naught," said I. 

"Now," said she, "I know the cause, or the chief cause, of 
your sickness. You have forgotten what you are. Now there- 
fore I have found out to the full the manner of your sickness, 
and how to attempt the restoring of your health. You are over- 
whelmed by this forgetfulness of yourself: hence you have 
been thus sorrowing that you are exiled and robbed of all your 
possessions. You do not know the aim and end of all things; 
hence you think that if men are worthless and wicked, they 
are powerful and fortunate. You have forgotten by what 
methods the universe is guided; hence you think that the 
chances of good and bad fortune are tossed about with no 
ruling hand. These things may lead not to disease only, but 
even to death as well. But let us thank the Giver of all health, 
that your nature has not altogether left you. We have yet the 
chief spark for your health's fire, for you have a true knowl- 
edge of the hand that guides the universe: you do believe that 
its government is not subject to random chance, but to divine 
reason. Therefore have no fear. From this tiny spark the fire 
of life shall forthwith shine upon you. But it is not time to use 
severer remedies, and since we know that it is the way of all 
minds to clothe themselves ever in false opinions as they throw 

The Consolation of Philosophy 19 

off the true, and these false ones breed a dark distraction which 
confuses the true insight, therefore will I try to lessen this 
darkness for a while with gentle applications of easy remedies, 
that so the shadows of deceiving passions may be dissipated, 
and you may have power to perceive the brightness of true 

"When the stars are hidden by black clouds, no light can 
they afford. When the boisterous south wind rolls along the 
sea and stirs the surge, the water, but now as clear as glass, 
bright as the fair sun's light, is dark, impenetrable to sight, 
with stirred and scattered sand. The stream, that wanders 
down the mountain's side, must often find a stumbling-block, 
a stone within its path torn from the hill's own rock. So too 
shalt thou: if thou wouldst see the truth in undimmed light, 
choose the straight road, the beaten path ; away with passing 
joys! away with fear! put vain hopes to flight! and grant no 
place to grief! Where these distractions reign, the mind is 
clouded o'er, the soul is bound in chains." 


(Philosophy would prove that his opinions and his griefs are not 
justified in one of her followers.) 

THEN for a while she held her peace. But when her silence, 
so discreet, made my thoughts to cease from straying, she 
thus began to speak: "If I have thoroughly learned the causes 
and the manner of your sickness, your former good fortune 
has so affected you that you are being consumed by longing 
for it. The change of this alone has overturned your peace of 
mind through your own imagination. I understand the varied 
disguises of that unnatural state. I know how Fortune is ever 
most friendly and alluring to those whom she strives to de- 
ceive, until she overwhelms them with grief beyond bearing, 
by deserting them when least expected. If you recall her 
nature, her ways, or her deserts, you will see that you never 
had in her, nor have lost with her, aught that was lovely. Yet, 
I think, I shall not need great labour to recall this to your 
memory. For then too, when she was at your side with all her 
flattery, you were wont to reproach her in strong and manly 
terms; and to revile her with the opinions that you had 
gathered in worship of me with my favoured ones. But no 
sudden change of outward affairs can ever come without some 
upheaval in the mind. Thus has it followed that you, like 
others, have fallen somewhat away from your calm peace of 
mind. But it is time now for you to make trial of some gentle 
and pleasant draught, which by reaching your inmost parts 
shall prepare the way for yet stronger healing draughts. Try 
therefore the assuring influence of gentle argument which 
keeps its straight path only when it holds fast to my instruc- 
tions. And with this art of orators let my handmaid, the art 


The Consolation of Philosophy 2 1 

of song, lend her aid in chanting light or weighty harmonies 
as we desire. 

"What is it, mortal man, that has cast you down into grief 
and mourning? You have seen something unwonted, it would 
seem, something strange to you. But if you think that Fortune 
has changed towards you, you are wrong. These are ever her 
ways: this is her very nature. She has with you preserved her 
own constancy by her very change. She was ever changeable 
at the time when she smiled upon you, when she was mocking 
you with the allurements of false good fortune. You have 
discovered both the different faces of the blind goddess. To 
the eyes of others she is veiled in part: to you she has made 
herself wholly known. If you find her welcome, make use of 
her ways, and so make no complaining. If she fills you with 
horror by her treachery, treat her with despite; thrust her 
away from you, for she tempts you to your ruin. For though 
she is the cause of this great trouble for you, she ought to have 
been the subject of calmness and peace. For no man can ever 
make himself sure that she will never desert him, and thus 
has she deserted you. Do you reckon such happiness to be 
prized, which is sure to pass away? Is good fortune dear to 
you, which is with you for a time and is not sure to stay, and 
which is sure to bring you unhappiness when it is gone? But 
seeing that it cannot be stayed at will, and that when it flees 
away it leaves misery behind, what is such a fleeting thing 
but a sign of coming misery? Nor should it ever satisfy any 
man to look only at that which is placed before his eyes. 
Prudence takes measure of the results to come from all things. 
The very changeableness of good and bad makes Fortune's 
threats no more fearful, nor her smiles to be desired. And 
lastly, when you have once put your neck beneath the yoke 
of Fortune, you must with steadfast heart bear whatever 
comes to pass within her realm. But if you would dictate the 
law by which she whom you have freely chosen to be your 
mistress must stay or go, surely you will be acting without 
justification; and your very impatience will make more bitter 

22 Boethius 

a lot which you cannot change. If you set your sails before 
the wind, will you not move forward whither the wind drives 
you, not whither your will may choose to go? If you intrust 
your seed to the furrow, will you not weigh the rich years 
and the barren against each other? You have given yourself 
over to Fortune's rule, and you must bow yourself to your 
mistress's ways. Are you trying to stay the force of her turning 
wheel? Ah! dull-witted mortal, if Fortune begin to stay still, 
she is no longer Fortune. 

"As thus she turns her wheel of chance with haughty hand, 
and presses on like the surge of Euripus's tides, fortune now 
tramples fiercely on a fearsome king, and now deceives no 
less a conquered man by raising from the ground his humbled 
face. She hears no wretch's cry, she heeds no tears, but wan- 
tonly she mocks the sorrow which her cruelty has made. This 
is her sport: thus she proves her power; if in the selfsame 
hour one man is raised to happiness, and cast down in despair, 
'tis thus she shews her might. 

(Philosophy shews how Fortune may plead her justification.) 
"Now would I argue with you by these few words which 
Fortune herself might use: and do you consider whether her 
demands are fair. 'Why, O man/ she might say, 'do you daily 
accuse me with your complainings? What injustice have I 
wrought upon you? Of what good things have I robbed you? 
Choose your judge whom you will, and before him strive 
with me for the right to hold your wealth and honours. If you 
can prove that any one of these does truly belong to any 
mortal man, readily will I grant that these you seek to regain 
were yours. When nature brought you forth from your 
mother's womb, I received you in my arms naked and bare 
of all things; I cherished you with my gifts, and I brought 
you up all too kindly with my favouring care, wherefore now 
you cannot bear with me, and I surrounded you with glory 
and all the abundance that was mine to give. Now it pleases 
me to withdraw my hand: be thankful, as though you had 

The Consolation of Philosophy 23 

lived upon my loans. You have no just cause of complaint, as 
though you had really lost what was once your own. Why 
do you rail against me? I have wrought no violence towards 
you. Wealth, honours, and all such are within my rights. They 
are my handmaids; they know their mistress; they come with 
me and go when I depart. Boldly will I say that if these, of 
whose loss you complain, were ever yours, you would never 
have lost them at all. Am I alone to be stayed from using my 
rightful power? The heavens may grant bright sunlit days, 
and hide the same beneath the shade of night. The year may 
deck the earth's countenance with flowers and fruits, and 
again wrap it with chilling clouds. The sea may charm with 
its smoothed surface, but no less justly it may soon bristle 
in storms with rough waves. Is the insatiate discontent of man 
to bind me to a constancy which belongs not to my ways? 
Herein lies my very strength; this is my unchanging sport. I 
turn my wheel that spins its circle fairly; I delight to make 
the lowest turn to the top, the highest to the bottom. Come 
you to the top if you will, but on this condition, that you think 
it no unfairness to sink when the rule of my game demands 
it. Do you not know my ways? Have you not heard how 
Croesus, 1 king of Lydia, who filled even Cyrus with fear but 
a little earlier, was miserably put upon a pyre of burning 
faggots, but was saved by rain sent down from heaven? Have 
you forgotten how Paulus shed tears of respect for the miseries 
of his captive, King Perses? 2 For what else is the crying and 
the weeping in tragedies but for the happiness of kings over- 
turned by the random blow of fortune? Have you never learnt 
in your youth the ancient allegory that in the threshold of 
Jove's hall there stand two vessels, one full of evil, and one 
of good? What if you have received more richly of the good? 
What if I have not ever withheld myself from you? What if 
my changing nature is itself a reason that you should hope 

1 The proverbially rich and happy king; defeated and condemned to 
death by Cyrus, king of Media, in 546 B.C., but spared by him. 

'The last king of Macedonia, defeated at Pydna, 168 B.C., by L. 
^Emilius Paulus. 

24 Boethius 

for better things? In any way, let not your spirit eat itself 
away: you are set in the sphere that is common to all, let 
your desire therefore be to live with your own lot in life, a 
subject of the kingdom of the world. 

" 'If Plenty with overflowing horn scatter her wealth abroad, 
abundantly, as in the storm-tossed sea the sand is cast around, 
or so beyond all measure as the stars shine forth upon the 
studded sky in cloudless nights; though she never stay her 
hand, yet will the race of men still weep and wail. Though 
God accept their prayers freely and give gold with ungrudging 
hand, and deck with honours those who deserve them, yet 
when they are gotten, these gifts seem naught. Wild greed 
swallows what it has sought, and still gapes wide for more. 
What bit or bridle will hold within its course this headlong 
lust, when, whetted by abundance of rich gifts, the thirst for 
possession burns? Never call we that man rich who is ever 
trembling in haste and groaning for that he thinks he lacks.' 

(Philosophy proceeds to justify Fortune in the balance of accounts 
with Boethius.) 

"If Fortune should thus defend herself to you," said Phi- 
losophy, "you would have naught, I think, to utter on the 
other part. But if you have any just defence for your com- 
plaining, you must put it forward. We will grant you the 
opportunity of speaking." 

Then I answered, "Those arguments have a fair form and 
are clothed with all the sweetness of speech and of song. When 
a man listens to them, they delight him; but only so long. 
The wretched have a deeper feeling of their misfortunes. 
Wherefore when these pleasing sounds fall no longer upon 
the ear, this deep-rooted misery again weighs down the spirit." 

"It is so," she said. "For these are not the remedies for 
your sickness, but in some sort are the applications for your 
grief which chafes against its cure. When the time comes, I 
will apply those which are to penetrate deeply. But that you 
may not be content to think yourself wretched, remember 

The Consolation of Philosophy 25 

how many and how great have been the occasions of your good 
fortune. I will not describe how, when you lost your father, 
men of the highest rank received you into their care: how 
you were chosen by the chief men in the state to be allied 
to them by marriage; * and you were dear to them before you 
were ever closely related; which is the most valuable of all 
relationships. Who hesitated to pronounce you most fortunate 
for the greatness of your wives' families, for their virtues, 
and for your blessings in your sons too? I need not speak of 
those things that are familiar, so I pass over the honours 
which are denied to most old men, but were granted to you 
when yet young. I choose to come to the unrivalled crown of 
your good fortune. If the enjoyment of anything mortal can 
weigh at all in the balance of good fortune, can your memory 
of one great day ever be extinguished by any mass of accumu- 
lated ills? I mean that day when you saw your two sons pro- 
ceed forth from your house as consuls together, amid the 
crowding senators, the eager and applauding populace: when 
they sat down in the seats of honour and you delivered the 
speech of congratulation to the king, gaining thereby glory 
for your talent and your eloquence: when in the circus you 
sat in the place of honour between the consuls, and by a dis- 
play of lavishness worthy of a triumphing general, you pleased 
to the full the multitude who were crowded around in ex- 

"While Fortune then favoured you, it seems you flaunted 
her, though she cherished you as her own darling. You carried 
off a bounty which she had never granted to any citizen be- 
fore. Will you then balance accounts with Fortune? This is 
the first time that she has looked upon you with a grudging 
eye. If you think of your happy and unhappy circumstances 
both in number and in kind, you will not be able to say that 
you have not been fortunate until now. And if you think that 
you were not fortunate because these things have passed away 

1 Boelhius's first wife was Elpis, daughter of Festus : his second was 
Rusticiana, daughter of Symmachus, a senator and consul, A.D. 485. His 
second wife was the mother of the two sons mentioned below. 

26 Boethius 

which then seemed to bring happiness, these things too are 
passing away, which you now hold to be miserable, wherefore 
you cannot think that you are wretched now. Is this your first 
entrance upon the stage of life? Are you come here unprepared 
and a stranger to the scene? Think you that there is any 
certainty in the affairs of mankind, when you know that often 
one swift hour can utterly destroy a man? For though the 
chances of life may seldom be depended upon, yet the last day 
of a lifetime seems to be the end of Fortune's power, though 
it perhaps would stay. What, think you, should we therefore 
say; that you desert her by dying, or that she deserts you by 
leaving you?" 

"When o'er the heaven Phoebus from his rose-red car be- 
gins to shed his light abroad, his flames oppress the paling 
stars and blunt their whitened rays. When the grove grows 
bright in spring with roses 'neath the west wind's warming 
breath, let but the cloudy gale once wildly blow, and their 
beauty is gone, the thorns alone remain. Often the sea is calmly 
glistening bright with all untroubled waves, but as often does 
the north wind stir them up, making the troubling tempest 
boil. If then the earth's own covering so seldom constant stays, 
if its changes are so great, shalt thou trust the brittle fortunes 
of mankind, have faith in fleeting good? For this is sure, and 
this is fixed by everlasting law, that naught which is brought 
to birth shall constant here abide." 

{Boethius pleads that "sorrow's crown of sorrows is remembering 
happier things," and Philosophy answers him.) 

Then I answered her, "Cherisher of all the virtues, you tell 
me but the truth: I cannot deny my rapid successes and my 
prosperity. But it is such remembrances that torment me more 
than others. For of all suffering from Fortune, the unhappiest 
misfortune is to have known a happy fortune." 

"But," said Philosophy, "you are paying the penalty for 
your mistaken expectations, and with this you cannot justly 
charge your life's circumstances. If you are affected by this 
empty name of Fortune's gift of happiness, you must listen 

The Consolation of Philosophy 27 

while I recall how many and how great are your sources of 
happiness: and thus, if you have possessed that which is the 
most precious among all Fortune's gifts, and if that is still 
safe and unharmed in your possession, you will never, while 
you keep these better gifts, be able to justly charge Fortune 
with unkindness. Firstly, your wife's father, Symmachus, is 
still living and hale; and what more precious glory has the 
human race than him? And he, because your worth is un- 
diminished and your life still so valuable, is mourning for 
the injustice you suffer, this man who is wholly made up of 
wisdom and virtue. Again, your wife lives, a woman whose 
character is full of virtue, whose modesty excels its kind ; a 
woman who (to put in a word the gifts she brought you) is 
like her father. She lives, and, hating this life, for your sake 
alone she clings to it. Herein only will I yield to allow you 
unhappiness; she pines with tears and grief through her long- 
ing for you. Need I speak of your sons who have both been 
consuls, and whose lives, as when they were boys, are yet 
bright with the character of their grandfather and their father? 
Wherefore, since mortals desire exceedingly to keep a hold 
on life, how happy you should be, knew you but your bless- 
ings, since you have still what none doubts to be dearer than 
life itself? Wherefore now dry your tears. Fortune's hatred 
has not yet been so great as to destroy all your holds upon 
happiness: the tempest that is fallen upon you is not too great 
for you: your anchors hold yet firm, and they should keep 
ever nigh to you confidence in the present and hope for future 

"And may they continue to hold fast," said I, "that is my 
prayer: while they are firm, we will reach the end of our 
voyage, however things may be. But you see how much my 
glory has departed." 

And she answered, "We have made some progress, if you 
are not now weary entirely of your present lot. But I cannot 
bear this dallying so softly, so long as you complain that your 
happiness lacks aught, so long as you are full of sorrow and 
care. Whose happiness is so firmly established that he has no 

28 Boethius 

quarrel from any side with his estate of life? For the condi- 
tion of our welfare is a matter fraught with care: either its 
completeness never appears, or it never remains. One man's 
wealth is abundant, but his birth and breeding put him to 
shame. Another is famous for his noble birth, but would rather 
be unknown because he is hampered by his narrow means. A 
third is blessed with wealth and breeding, but bewails his 
life because he has no wife. Another is happy in his marriage, 
but has no children, and saves his wealth only for an heir that 
is no son of his. Another is blessed with children, but weeps 
tears of sorrow for the misdeeds of son or daughter. So none 
is readily at peace with the lot his fortune sends him. For in 
each case there is that which is unknown to him who has not 
experienced it, and which brings horror to him who has ex- 
perienced it. Consider further, that the feelings of the most 
fortunate men are the most easily affected, wherefore, unless 
all their desires are supplied, such men, being unused to all 
adversity, are cast down by every little care: so small are the 
troubles which can rob them of complete happiness. 

"How many are they, think you, who would think them- 
selves raised to heaven if the smallest part of the remnants 
of your good fortune fell to them? This very place, which you 
call a place of exile, is home to those who live herein. Thus 
there is nothing wretched unless you think it to be so: and in 
like manner he who bears all with a calm mind finds his lot 
wholly blessed. Who is so happy but would wish to change 
his estate, if he yields to impatience of his lot? With how 
much bitterness is the sweetness of man's life mingled! For 
even though its enjoyment seem pleasant, yet it may not be 
surely kept from departing when it will. It is plain then how 
wretched is the happiness of mortal life which neither endures 
for ever with men of calm mind, nor ever wholly delights the 
care-ridden. Wherefore, then, O mortal men, seek ye that 
happiness without, which lies within yourselves? Ye are con- 
founded by error and ignorance. I will shew you as shortly as 
I may, the pole on which turns the highest happiness. Is there 
aught that you value more highly than your own self? You 

The Consolation of Philosophy 29 

will answer that there is nothing. If then you are master of 
yourself, you will be in possession of that which you will never 
wish to lose, and which Fortune will never be able to take 
from you. Yet consider this further, that you may be assured 
that happiness cannot be fixed in matters of chance: if happi- 
ness is the highest good of a man who lives his life by reason, 
and if that which can by any means be snatched away, is not 
the highest good (since that which is best cannot be snatched 
away), it is plain that Fortune by its own uncertainty can 
never come near to reaching happiness. Further, the man who 
is borne along by a happiness which may stumble, either 
knows that it may change, or knows it not: if he knows it 
not, what happiness can there be in the blindness of ignorance? 
If he knows it, he must needs live in fear of losing that which 
he cannot doubt that he may lose; wherefore an ever-present 
fear allows not such an one to be happy. Or at any rate, if he 
lose it without unhappiness, does he not think it worthless? 
For that, whose loss can be calmly borne, is indeed a small 
good. You, I know well, are firmly persuaded that men's un- 
derstandings can never die; this truth is planted deep in you 
by many proofs: since then it is plain that the happiness of 
fortune is bounded by the death of the body, you cannot doubt 
that, if death can carry away happiness, the whole race of 
mortals is sinking into wretchedness to be found upon the 
border of death. But we know that many have sought the 
enjoyment of happiness not only by death, but even by sor- 
row and sufferings: how then can the presence of this life 
make us happy, when its end cannot make us unhappy? 

"He that would build on a lasting resting-place; who would 
be firm to resist the blasts of the storming wind; who seeks, 
too, safety where he may contemn the surge and threatening 
of the sea; must leave the lofty mountain's top, and leave 
the thirsting sands. The hill is swept by all the might of the 
headstrong gale: the sands dissolve, and will not bear the load 
upon them. Let him fly the danger in a lot which is pleasant 
rest unto the eye: let him be mindful to set his house surely 
upon the lowly rock. Then let the wind bellow, confounding 

3O Boethius 

wreckage in the sea, and them wilt still be founded upon un- 
moving peace, wilt be blessed in the strength of thy defence: 
thy life will be spent in calmness, and thou mayest mock the 
raging passions of the air. 

(Philosophy examines more carefully the value of things highly 
prized by men.) 

"But now," she continued, "the first remedies of reasoning 
are reaching you more deeply, and I think I should now use 
those that are somewhat stronger. If the gifts of Fortune fade 
not nor pass quickly away, even so, what is there in them 
which could ever be truly yours, or which would not lose its 
value when examined or thought upon? 

"Are riches valuable for their own nature, or on account 
of your and other men's natures? Which is the more valuable, 
the gold itself or the power of the stored up-money? Surely 
wealth shines more brightly when spent than when put away 
in masses. Avarice ever brings hatred, while generous spending 
brings honour. But that cannot remain with one person which 
is handed over to another: therefore money becomes valuable 
to its possessor when, by being scattered, it is transferred to 
others, and ceases to be possessed. And if all that is heaped 
together among mankind comes to one man, it makes the others 
all poor. A voice indeed fills equally the ears of all that hear: 
but your riches cannot pass to others without being lessened: 
and when they pass, they make poor those whom they leave. 
How strait then and poor are those riches, which most men 
may not have, and which can only come to one by making 
others poor! 

"Think again of precious stones: does their gleam attract 
your eyes? But any excellence they have is their own bril- 
liance, and belongs not to men: wherefore I am amazed that 
men so strongly admire them. What manner of thing can that 
be which has no mind to influence, which has no structure of 
parts, and yet can justly seem to a living, reasoning mind to 
be beautiful? Though they be works of their creator, and by 
their own beauty and adornment have a certain low beauty, 

The Consolation of Philosophy 31 

yet are they in rank lower than your own excellence, and have 
in no wise deserved your admiration. 

"Does the beauty of landscape delight you?" 

"Surely, for it is a beautiful part of a beautiful creation: 
and in like manner we rejoice at times in the appearance of 
a calm sea, and we admire the sky, the stars, the sun, and the 

"Does any one of these," said she, "concern you? Dare 
you boast yourself of the splendid beauty of any one of such 
things? Are you yourself adorned by the flowers of spring? 
Is it your richness that swells the fruits of autumn? Why are 
you carried away by empty rejoicing? Why do you embrace 
as your own the good things which are outside yourself? For- 
tune will never make yours what Nature has made to belong 
to other things. The fruits of the earth should doubtless serve 
as nourishment for living beings, but if you would satisfy 
your need as fully as Nature needs, you need not the abun- 
dance of Fortune. Nature is content with very little, and if 
you seek to thrust upon her more than is enough, then what 
you cast in will become either unpleasing or even harmful. 

"Again, you think that you appear beautiful in many kinds 
of clothing. But if their form is pleasant to the eyes, I would 
admire the nature of the material or the skill of the maker. 
Or are you made happy by a long line of attendants? Surely 
if they are vicious, they are but a burden to the house, and 
full of injury to their master himself; while if they are honest, 
how can the honesty of others be counted among your pos- 

"Out of all these possessions, then, which you reckon as 
your wealth, not one can really be shown to be your own. For 
if they have no beauty for you to acquire, what have they for 
which you should grieve if you lose them, or in keeping which 
you should rejoice? And if they are beautiful by their own 
nature, how are you the richer thereby? For these would have 
been pleasing of themselves, though cut out from your pos- 
sessions. They do not become valuable by reason that they 
have come into your wealth; but you have desired to count 

32 Bocthius 

them among your wealth, because they seemed valuable. Why 
then do you long for them with such railing against Fortune? 
You seek, I believe, to put want to flight by means of plenty. 
But you find that the opposite results. The more various is 
the beauty of furniture, the more helps are needed to keep 
it beautiful, and it is ever true that they who have much, 
need much; and on the other hand, they need least who meas- 
ure their wealth by the needs of nature, not by excess of 

"Is there then no good which belongs to you and is im- 
planted within you, that you seek your good things elsewhere, 
in things without you and separate from you? Have things 
taken such a turn that the animal, whose reason gives it a 
claim to divinity, cannot seem beautiful to itself except by 
the possession of lifeless trappings? Other classes of things 
are satisfied by their intrinsic possessions; but men, though 
made like God in understanding, seek to find among the lowest 
things adornment for their higher nature: and you do not 
understand that you do a great wrong thereby to your Creator. 
He intended that the human race should be above all other 
earthly beings; yet you thrust down your honourable place 
below the lowest. For if every good thing is allowed to be 
more valuable than that to which it belongs, surely you are 
putting yourselves lower than them in your estimation, since 
you think precious the most worthless of things; and this is 
indeed a just result. Since, then, this is the condition of hu- 
man nature, that it surpasses other classes only when it realises 
what is in itself; as soon as it ceases to know itself, it must 
be reduced to a lower rank than the beasts. To other animals 
ignorance of themselves is natural; in men it is a fault. How 
plainly and how widely do you err by thinking that anything 
can be adorned by ornaments that belong to others! Surely 
that cannot be. For if anything becomes brilliant by additions 
thereto, the praise for the brilliance belongs to the additions. 
But the subject remains in its own vileness, though hidden and 
covered by these externals. 

"Again, I say that naught can be a good thing which does 

The Consolation of Philosophy 33 

harm to its possessor. Am I wrong? 'No/ you will say. Yet 
many a time do riches harm their possessors, since all base 
men, who are therefore the most covetous, think that they 
themselves alone are worthy to possess all gold and precious 
stones. You therefore, who now go in fear of the cudgel and 
sword of the robber, could laugh in his face if you had entered 
upon this path with empty pockets. 1 How wonderful is the sur- 
passing blessing of mortal wealth! As soon as you have ac- 
quired it, your cares begin! 

"O happy was that early age of men, contented with their 
trusted and unfailing fields, nor ruined by the wealth that 
enervates. Easily was the acorn got that used to satisfy their 
longwhile fast. They knew not Bacchus' gifts, nor honey 
mixed therewith. They knew not how to tinge with Tyre's 
purple dyes the sheen of China's silks. Their sleep kept health 
on rush and grass; the stream gave them to drink as it flowed 
by: the lofty pine to them gave shade. Not one of them yet 
clave the ocean's depths, nor, carrying stores of merchandise, 
had visited new shores. Then was not heard the battle's 
trump, nor had blood made red with bitter hate the bristling 
swords of war. For why should any madness urge to take up 
first their arms upon an enemy such ones as knew no sight 
of cruel wounds nor knew rewards that could be reaped in 
blood? Would that our times could but return to those old 
ways! But love of gain and greed of holding burn more fiercely 
far than ^Etna's fires. Ah! who was the wretch who first un- 
earthed the mass of hidden gold, the gems that only longed 
to lie unfound? For full of danger was the prize he found. 

"What am I to say of power and of the honours of office, 
which you raise to heaven because you know not true hon- 
oured power? What fires belched forth from ^Etna's flames, 
what overwhelming flood could deal such ruin as these when 

1 This is an application of Juvenal's lines (Sat. x. 19) which contrast 
the terror of the money-laden traveller with the careless happiness of tht 
man who meets a highwayman with no purse and empty pockets. 

34 Boethius 

they fall into the hands of evil men? I am sure you remember 
how your forefathers wished to do away with the consular 
power, which had been the very foundation of liberty, because 
of the overbearing pride of the consuls, just as your ancestors 
had too in earlier times expunged from the state the name of 
king on account of the same pride. But if, as rarely happens, 
places of honour are granted to honest men, what else is de- 
lightful in them but the honesty they practise thereby? Where- 
fore honour comes not to virtue from holding office, but comes 
to office from virtues there practised. 

"But what is the power which you seek and esteem so 
highly? O creatures of the earth, can you not think over whom 
you are set? If you saw in a community of mice, one mouse 
asserting his rights and his power over the others, with what 
mirth you would greet the sight! Yet if you consider the body, 
what can you find weaker than humanity? Cannot a tiny gnat 
by its bite, or by creeping into the inmost parts, kill that body? 
How can any exercise right upon any other except upon the 
body alone, or that which is below the body, whereby I mean 
the fortunes? Can you ever impose any law upon a free spirit? 
Can you ever disturb the peculiar restfulness which is the 
property of a mind that hangs together upon the firm basis 
of its reason? When a certain tyrant thought that by tortures 
he would compel a free man 1 to betray the conspirators in a 
plot against his life, the philosopher bit through his tongue 
and spat it out in the tyrant's face. Thus were the tortures, 
which the tyrant intended to have cruel results, turned by 
the philosopher into subjects of high courage. Is there aught 
that one man can do to another, which he may not suffer from 
another in his turn? We have heard how Busiris, who used to 
kill strangers, was killed by Hercules when he came to Egypt. 
Regulus,* who had cast into chains many a Carthaginian cap- 
tive, soon yielded himself a prisoner to their chains. Do you 

1 This story is told of Anaxagoras and Nicocreon, king of Cyprus, c. 
B.C. 323- 

1 Regulus was the Roman general in Sicily in the first Punic War, taken 
prisoner in 255 B.C., and put to death in 250. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 35 

think that power to be any power, whose possessor cannot 
ensure his own escape from suffering at another's hands what 
he inflicts upon some other? 

"Further, if there were any intrinsic good in the nature of 
honours and powers themselves, they could never crowd upon 
the basest men. For opposites will not be bound together. 
Nature refuses to allow contraries to be linked to each other. 
Wherefore, while it is undoubted that for the most part offices 
of honour are enjoyed by bad men, it is also manifest that 
those things are not by nature good, which allow themselves 
to cling to evil men. And this indeed may worthily be held 
of all the gifts of fortune which come with the greatest success 
to the most unscrupulous. And in this matter we must also 
think on this fact, that no one doubts a man to be brave in 
whom he has found by examination that bravery is implanted: 
and whoever has the quality of swiftness is plainly swift. So 
also music makes men musical, medicine makes men phy- 
sicians, oratory makes men orators. The nature of each quality 
acts as is peculiar to itself: it is not confused with the results 
of contrary qualities, but goes so far as to drive out those 
qualities which are opposed to it. Wealth cannot quench the 
insatiable thirst of avarice: nor can power ever make master 
of himself the man whom vicious passions hold fast in un- 
breakable chains. Honours, when joined to dishonest men, so 
far from making them honourable, betray them rather, and 
show them to be dishonourable. Why is this so? It is because 
you rejoice to call things by false names which belong not to 
them; their names are refuted by the reality of their qualities: 
wherefore neither riches, nor that kind of power, nor these 
honours, can justly so be called. Lastly, we may come to the 
same conclusion concerning all the aspects of Fortune: noth- 
ing is to be sought in her, and it is plain she has no innate 
good, for she is not always joined with good men, nor does 
she make good those with whom she is joined." 

f{ We have heard what ruin Nero wrought when Rome was 
burnt and senators were slain. We know how savagely he did 

36 Boethius 

to death his brother, 1 how he was stained by the spilling of 
his own mother's blood, and how he looked upon her cold 
body and yet no tear fell upon his cheek: yet could this man 
be judge of the morals that were dead? Nay, he was ruler of 
the peoples whom the sun looks upon from the time he rises 
in the east until he hides his rays beneath the waves, and those 
whom the chilling northern Wain o'errules, and those whom 
the southern gale burns with its dry blast, as it heats the 
burning sands. Say, could great power chasten Nero's mad- 
dened rage? Ah! heavy fate, how often is the sword of high 
injustice given where is already most poisonous cruelty! " 

Then I said, "You know that the vain-glory of this world 
has had but little influence over me; but I have desired the 
means of so managing affairs that virtue might not grow aged 
in silence." 

(Philosophy discusses Fame, "that last infirmity of noble minds.") 

"Yes," said she, "but there is one thing which can attract 
minds, which, though by nature excelling, yet are not led by 
perfection to the furthest bounds of virtue; and that thing is 
the love of fame and reputation for deserving well of one's 
country. Think then thus upon it, and see that it is but a slight 
thing of no weight. As you have learnt from astronomers' 
shewing, the whole circumference of the earth is but as a point 
compared with the size of the heavens. That is, if you compare 
the earth with the circle of the universe, it must be reckoned 
as of no size at all. And of this tiny portion of the universe 
there is but a fourth part, as you have learnt from the demon- 
stration of Ptolemseus, 8 which is inhabited by living beings 
known to us. If from this fourth part you imagine subtracted 
all that is covered by sea and marsh, and all the vast regions 
of thirsty desert, you will find but the narrowest space left for 

1 Britannicus, son of Nero's father, the Emperor Claudius, put to death 
A.D. 55- 

* A mathematician, astronomer, and geographer of Alexandria. Fl. 
140-160 AJX Boethius translated one of his works. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 37 

human habitation. And do you think of setting forth your 
fame and publishing your name in this space, which is but 
as a point within another point so closely circumscribed? And 
what size or magnificence can fame have which is shut in by 
such close and narrow bounds? Further, this narrow enclosure 
of habitation is peopled by many races of men which differ 
in language, in customs, and in their whole scheme of living; 
and owing to difficulty of travelling, differences of speech, and 
rareness of any intercourse, the fame of cities cannot reach 
them, much less the fame of men. Has not Cicero written 
somewhere that in his time the fame of Rome had not reached 
the mountains of the Caucasus, though the Republic was al- 
ready well grown and striking awe among the Parthians and 
other nations in those parts? Do you see then how narrow 
and closely bounded must be that fame which you wish to 
extend more widely? Can the fame of a Roman ever reach 
parts to which the name of Rome cannot come? 

"Further, the manners and customs of different races are so 
little in agreement, that what is considered praiseworthy 
among one people may be punished by another. Wherefore 
it may not be to a man's advantage in many lands to make 
his name known, because he takes pleasure in a glorious fame. 
So each man shall be content if his fame travels throughout 
his own countrymen, and the immortality of his name shall be 
bounded by the limits of one nation. But how many men, the 
most famous of their times, are wiped out by oblivion because 
no man has written of them I * And yet what advantage is there 
in much that is written? For with their authors these writings 
are overwhelmed in the length and dimness of age. Yet when 
you think upon your fame in future ages, you seem to think 

1 Boethius is thinking of Horace, Odes iv. 9. 

Ere Agamemnon saw the light, 
There lived brave men : but tearless all 

Enfolded in eternal night, 
For lack of sacred minstrels, fall. 

(Mr. Gladstone's translation.) 

38 Bocthius 

that you are prolonging it to immortality. But if you think 
upon the unending length of eternity, what enjoyment do you 
find in the long endurance of your name? For though one 
moment bears but the least proportion to ten thousand years, 
yet there is a definite ratio, because both are limited spaces 
of time. But even ten thousand years, or the greatest number 
you will, cannot even be compared with eternity. For there 
will always be ratio between finite things, but between the 
finite and the infinite there can never be any comparison. 
Wherefore, however long drawn out may be the life of your 
fame, it is not even small, but it is absolutely nothing when 
compared with eternity. You know not how to act rightly 
except for the breezes of popular opinion and for the sake of 
empty rumours; thus the excellence of conscience and of virtue 
is left behind, and you seek rewards from the tattle of other 
men. Listen to the witty manner in which one played once 
upon the shallowness of this pride. A certain man once bit- 
terly attacked another who had taken to himself falsely the 
name of philosopher, not for the purpose of true virtue, but 
for pride of fame; he added to his attack that he would know 
soon whether he was a philosopher, when he saw whether the 
other bore with meekness and patience the insults he heaped 
upon him. The other shewed patience for a while and took 
the insults as though he scoffed at them, until he said, 'Do 
you now see that I am a philosopher?' 'I should have, had you 
kept silence/ said the other stingingly. But we are speaking 
of great men: and I ask, what do they gain from fame, though 
they seek glory by virtue? What have they after the body is 
dissolved at death? For if men die utterly, as our reason for- 
bids us to believe, there is no glory left to them at all, since 
they whose it is said to be, do not exist. If, on the other hand, 
the mind is still conscious and working when it is freed from 
its earthly prison, it seeks heaven in its freedom and surely 
spurns all earthly traffic: it enjoys heaven and rejoices in its 
release from the things of this world. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 39 

"The mind that rushes headlong in its search for fame, 
thinking that is its highest good, should look upon the spread- 
ing regions of the air, and then upon the bounded tracts that 
are this world: then will shame enter it; that, though fame 
grow, yet can it never fill so small a circle. Proud men! Why 
will ye try in vain to free your necks from the yoke mortality 
has set thereon? Though fame may be wide scattered and find 
its way through distant lands, and set the tongues there talk- 
ing; though a splendid house may draw brilliance from famous 
names and tales ; yet death regards not any glory, howsoever 
great. Alike he overwhelms the lowly and the lofty head, and 
levels high with low. 

"Where are Fabricius's * bones, that honourable man? What 
now is Brutus? 2 or unbending Cato? 3 Their fame survives in 
this: it has no more than a few slight letters shewing forth an 
empty name. We see their noble names engraved, and only 
know thereby that they are brought to naught. Ye lie then all 
unknown, and fame can give no knowledge of you. But if you 
think that life can be prolonged by the breath of mortal fame, 
yet when the slow time robs you of this too, then there awaits 
you but a second death. 

"But," she said, "do not think that I would urge implacable 
war upon Fortune. There are times when her deception of men 
has certain merits: I mean when she discovers herself, unveils 
her face, and proclaims her ways. Perhaps you do not yet 
understand what I would say. It is a strange thing that I am 
trying to say, and for that reason I can scarcely explain myself 
in words. I think that ill fortune is of greater advantage to 

1 Fabricius was the Roman general whom Pyrrhus could neither bribe 
nor intimidate, B.C. 280. 

a L. Junius Brutus, who led the Romans to expel the last of the kings, 
and was elected the first consul, B.C. 509. 

'Probably Cato Major, the great censor, B.C. 184, the rigid champion 
of the stern old Roman morals ; or possibly Cato Minor, who committed 
suicide at Utica after the battle of Thapsus, B.C. 46, because he considered 
that Caesar's victory was fatal to the Republic and the liberty of Rome. 

4O Boethius 

men than good fortune. Good fortune is ever lying when she 
seems to favour by an appearance of happiness. Ill fortune 
is ever true when by her changes she shews herself inconstant. 
The one deceives; the other edifies. The one by a deceitful ap- 
pearance of good things enchains the minds of those who enjoy 
them: the other frees them by a knowledge that happiness is 
so fragile. You see, then, that the one is blown about by 
winds, is ever moving and ever ignorant of its own self; the 
other is sober, ever prepared and ever made provident by the 
undergoing of its very adversities. Lastly, good fortune draws 
men from the straight path of true good by her fawning: ill 
fortune draws most men to the true good, and holds them back 
by her curved staff. 

"And do you think that this should be reckoned among the 
least benefits of this rough, unkind, and terrible ill fortune, 
that she has discovered to you the minds of your faithful 
friends? Fortune has distinguished for you your sure and your 
doubtful friends; her departure has taken away her friends 
and left you yours. At what price could you have bought this 
benefit if you had been untouched and, as you thought, for- 
tunate? Cease then to seek the wealth you have lost. You have 
found your friends, and they are the most precious of all riches. 

"Through Love 1 the universe with constancy makes changes 
all without discord: earth's elements, though contrary, abide 
in treaty bound: Phoebus in his golden car leads up the glow> 
ing day; his sister rules the night that Hesperus brought: the 
greedy sea confines its waves in bounds, lest the earth's borders 
be changed by its beating on them: all these are firmly bound 
by Love, which rules both earth and sea, and has its empire 
in the heavens too. If Love should slacken this its hold, all 
mutual love would change to war; and these would strive 
to undo the scheme which now their glorious movements carry 

1 Boethius in this passage is probably thinking of Empcdocles's doc- 
trine of Love which unites, and Strife which divides, the two primal 
forces in the universe. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 41 

out with trust and with accord. By Love are peoples too kept 
bound together by a treaty which they may not break. Love 
binds with pure affection the sacred tie of wedlock, and speaks 
its bidding to all trusty friends. O happy race of mortals, if 
your hearts are ruled as is the universe, by Lovel " * 

1 Cp. Bk. i. Prose iv. p. 10. 


WHEN she finished her lay, its soothing tones left me spell- 
bound with my ears alert in my eagerness to listen. So a while 
afterwards I said, "Greatest comforter of weary minds, how 
have you cheered me with your deep thoughts and sweet sing- 
ing too! No more shall I doubt my power to meet the blows 
of Fortune. So far am I from terror at the remedies which 
you did lately tell me were sharper, that I am longing to hear 
them, and eagerly I beg you for them." 

Then said she, "I knew it when you laid hold upon my 
words in silent attention, and I was waiting for that frame 
of mind in you, or more truly, I brought it about in you. They 
that remain are indeed bitter to the tongue, but sweet to the 
inner man. But as you say you are eager to hear, how ardently 
you would be burning, if you knew whither I am attempting 
to lead you!" 

"Whither is that?" I asked. 

"To the true happiness, of which your soul too dreams; but 
your sight is taken up in imaginary views thereof, so that you 
cannot look upon itself." 

Then said I, "I pray you shew me what that truly is, and 

"I will do so," she said, "for your sake willingly. But first 
I will try to picture in words and give you the form of the 
cause, which is already better known to you, so that, when 
that picture is perfect and you turn your eyes to the other 
side, you may recognise the form of true happiness. 

"When a man would sow in virgin soil, first he clears away 
the bushes, cuts the brambles and the ferns, that the corn- 

The Consolation of Philosophy 43 

goddess may go forth laden with her new fruit. The honey, 
that the bee has toiled to give us, is sweeter when the mouth 
has tasted bitter things. The stars shine with more pleasing 
grace when a storm has ceased to roar and pour down rain. 
After the morning star has dispersed the shades of night, the 
day in all its beauty drives its rosy chariot forth. So thou hast 
looked upon false happiness first; now draw thy neck from 
under her yoke: so shall true happiness now come into thy 

(Philosophy discusses "the highest good") 
She lowered her eyes for a little while as though searching 
the innermost recesses of her mind; and then she continued: 
"The trouble of the many and various aims of mortal men 
bring them much care, and herein they go forward by different 
paths but strive to reach one end, which is happiness. And 
that good is that, to which if any man attain, he can desire 
nothing further. It is that highest of all good things, and it 
embraces in itself all good things: if any good is lacking, it 
cannot be the highest good, since then there is left outside 
it something which can be desired. Wherefore happiness is a 
state which is made perfect by the union of all good things. 
This end all men seek to reach, as I said, though by different 
paths. For there is implanted by nature in the minds of men 
a desire for the true good; but error leads them astray towards 
false goods by wrong paths. 

"Some men believe that the highest good is to lack nothing, 
and so they are at pains to possess abundant riches. Others 
consider the true good to be that which is most worthy of ad- 
miration, and so they strive to attain to places of honour, and 
to be held by their fellow-citizens in honour thereby. Some 
determine that the highest good lies in the highest power; 
and so they either desire to reign themselves, or try to cleave 
to those who do reign. Others think that renown is the greatest 
good, and they therefore hasten to make a famous name by 
the arts of peace or of war. But more than all measure the 

44 Boethius 

fruit of good by pleasure and enjoyment, and these think that 
the happiest man is abandoned to pleasure. 

"Further, there are those who confuse the aims and the 
causes of these good things: as those who desire riches for 
the sake of power or of pleasure, or those who seek power for 
the sake of money or celebrity. In these, then, and other things 
like to them, lies the aim of men's actions and prayers, such 
as renown and popularity, which seem to afford some fame, 
or wife and children, which are sought for the pleasure they 
give. On the other hand, the good of friends, which is the most 
honourable and holy of all, lies not in Fortune's but in Virtue's 
realm. All others are adopted for the sake of power or enjoy- 

"Again, it is plain that the good things of the body must 
be accounted to those false causes which we have mentioned; 
for bodily strength and stature seem to make men more able 
and strong; beauty and swiftness seem to give renown; health 
seems to give pleasure. By all these happiness alone is plainly 
desired. For each man holds that to be the highest good, which 
he seeks before all others. But we have defined the highest 
good to be happiness. Wherefore what each man desires above 
all others, he holds to be a state of happiness. 

"Wherefore you have each of these placed before you as 
the form of human happiness: wealth, honours, power, glory, 
and pleasure. Epicurus 1 considered these forms alone, and 
accordingly determined upon pleasure as the highest good, 
because all the others seemed but to join with it in bringing 
enjoyment to the mind. 

"But to return to the aims of men: their minds seem to 
seek to regain the highest good, and their memories seem to 
dull their powers. It is as though a drunken man were seeking 
his home, but could not remember the way thither. Can those 

1 Epicurus (B.C. 342-270) was the famous founder of the Epicurean 
school of philosophy. His school had a large following of Romans 
under the Empire. His own teaching was of a higher nature than might 
be supposed from this bare statement that he thought "pleasure was 
the highrat good." 

The Consolation of Philosophy 45 

people be altogether wrong whose aim it is to lack nothing? 
No, there is nothing which can make happiness so perfect as 
an abundant possession of good things, needing naught that 
belongs to others, but in all ways sufficing for itself. Surely 
those others too are not mistaken who think that what is best 
is also most worthy of reverence and respect. It cannot be 
any cheap or base thing, to attain which almost all men aim 
and strive. And is power not to be accounted a good thing? 
Surely it is: can that be a weak thing or forceless, which is 
allowed in all cases to excel? Is renown of no value? We can- 
not surrender this; that whatever is most excellent, has also 
great renown. It is hardly worth saying that happiness has no 
torturing cares or gloom, and is not subject to grief and trou- 
ble; for even in small things, the aim is to find that which it is 
a delight to have and to enjoy. These, then, are the desires 
of men: they long for riches, places of honour, kingdoms, 
glory, and pleasure; and they long for them because they 
think that thereby they will find satisfaction, veneration, 
power, renown, and happiness. It is the good then which men 
seek by their different desires; and it is easy to shew how 
great a force nature has put therein, since in spite of such 
varying and discordant opinions, they are all agreed in the 
goal they seek, that of the highest good. 

"I would to pliant strings set forth a song of how almighty 
Nature turns her guiding reins, telling with what laws her 
providence keeps safe this boundless universe, binding and 
tying each and all with cords that never shall be loosed. The 
lions of Carthage, though they bear the gorgeous bonds and 
trappings of captivity, and eat the food that is given them 
by hand, and though they fear their harsh master with his 
lash they know so well; yet if once blood has touched their 
bristling jaws, their old, their latent wills return; with deep 
roaring they remember their old selves; they loose their bands 
and free their necks, and their tamer is the first torn by their 
cruel teeth, and his blood is poured out by their rage and 

46 Bocthius 

"If the bird who sings so lustily upon the high tree-top, be 
caught and caged, men may minister to him with dainty care, 
may give him cups of liquid honey and feed him with all gen- 
tleness on plenteous food; yet if he fly to the roof of his cage 
and see the shady trees he loves, he spurns with his foot the 
food they have put before him; the woods are all his sorrow 
calls for, for the woods he sings with his sweet tones. 

"The bough which has been downward thrust by force of 
strength to bend its top to earth, so soon as the pressing hand 
is gone, looks up again straight to the sky above. 

"Phoebus sinks into the western waves, but by his unknown 
track he turns his car once more to his rising in the east. 

"All things must find their own peculiar course again, and 
each rejoices in his own return. Not one can keep the order 
handed down to it, unless in some way it unites its rising to 
its end, and so makes firm, immutable, its own encircling 

(Philosophy shews the vanity of riches.) 
"And you too, creatures of the earth, do dream of your 
first state, though with a dim idea. With whatsoever thinking 
it may be, you look to that goal of happiness, though never 
so obscure your thoughts: thither, to true happiness, your 
natural course does guide you, and from the same your various 
errors lead you. For I would have you consider whether men 
can reach the end they have resolved upon, namely happiness, 
by these ways by which they think to attain thereto. If money 
and places of honour and such-like do bring anything of that 
sort to a man who seems to lack no good thing, then let us 
acknowledge with them that men do become happy by the 
possession of these things. But if they cannot perform their 
promises, and there is still lack of further good things, surely 
it is plain that a false appearance of happiness is there dis- 
covered. You, therefore, who had lately abundant riches, shall 
first answer me. With all that great wealth, was your mind 
never perturbed by torturing care arising from some sense of 

The Consolation of Philosophy 47 

"Yes," I said; "I cannot remember that my mind was ever 
free from some such care." 

"Was it not because something was lacking, which you 
missed, or because something was present to you which you 
did not like to have?" 

"Yes," I answered. 

"You desired, then, the presence of the one, and the ab- 
sence of the other?" 

"I acknowledge it." 

"Then," said she, "such a man lacks what he desires." 

"He does." 

"But while a man lacks anything, can he possibly satisfy 

"No," said I. 

"Then, while you were bountifully supplied with wealth, 
you felt that you did not satisfy yourself?" 

"I did indeed." 

"Then," said she, "wealth cannot prevent a man from lack- 
ing or make him satisfied. And this is what it apparently 
professed to do. And this point too I feel is most important: 
money has in itself, by its own nature, nothing which can 
prevent its being carried off from those, who possess it, against 
their will." 

"It has not," I said. 

"No, you cannot deny that any stronger man may any day 
snatch it from them. For how come about the quarrels of the 
law-courts? Is it not because people try to regain money that 
has been by force or by fraud taken from them?" 

"Yes," I answered. 

"Then," said she, "a man will need to seek from the out- 
side help to guard his own money." 

"That cannot be denied," I said. 

"And a man will not need that unless he possesses money 
which he can lose." 

"Undoubtedly he will not." 

"Then the argument turns round the other way," she said. 
"The riches which were thought to make a man all-sufficient 

48 Boethius 

for himself, do really put him in need of other people's help. 
Then how can need be separated from wealth? Do the rich 
never feel hunger nor thirst? Do the limbs of moneyed men 
never feel the cold of winter? You will say, 'Yes, but the rich 
have the wherewithal to satisfy hunger and thirst, and drive 
away cold/ But though riches may thus console wants, they 
cannot entirely take them away. For, though these ever crying 
wants, these continual requests, are satisfied, yet there must 
exist that which is to be satisfied. I need not say that nature 
is satisfied with little, greed is never satisfied. Wherefore, I 
ask you, if wealth cannot remove want, and even creates its 
own wants, what reason is there that you should think it 
affords satisfaction to a man? 

"Though the rich man with greed heap up from ever- 
flowing streams the wealth that cannot satisfy, though he 
deck himself with pearls from the Red Sea's shore, and plough 
his fertile field with oxen by the score, yet gnawing care will 
never in his lifetime leave him, and at his death his wealth 
will not go with him, but leave him faithlessly." 

(The vanity of high places.) 

"But," I urged, "places of honour make the man, to whom 
they fall, honoured and venerated." 

"Ah! " she answered, "have those offices their force in truth 
that they may instil virtues into the minds of those that hold 
them, and drive out vices therefrom? And yet we are too well 
accustomed to see them making wickedness conspicuous rather 
than avoiding it. Wherefore we are displeased to see such 
places often falling to the most wicked of men, so that Catullus 
called Nonius 'a diseased growth,' * though he sat in the high- 
est chair of office. Do you see how great a disgrace high 
honours can add to evil men? Their unworthiness is less con- 

1 Probably Boethius makes a mistake in his interpretation of Catullus 
(Carm. 52), as Nonius's surname was very likely "Struma" (which 
also means a wen) ; in which case Catullus cannot at most have in- 
tended more to be understood than a play upon the man's true name. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 49 

spicuous if they are not made famous by honours. Could you 
yourself have been induced by any dangers to think of being 
a colleague with Decoratus, 1 when you saw that he had the 
mind of an unscrupulous buffoon, and a base informer? We 
cannot consider men worthy of veneration on account of their 
high places, when we hold them to be unworthy of those high 
places. But if you see a man endowed with wisdom, you cannot 
but consider him worthy of veneration, or at least of the wis- 
dom with which he is endowed. For such a man has the worth 
peculiar to virtue, which it transmits directly to those in whom 
it is found. But since honours from the vulgar crowd cannot 
create merit, it is plain that they have not the peculiar beauty 
of this worth. And here is a particular point to be noticed: 
if men are the more worthless as they are despised by more 
people, high position makes them all the worse because it 
cannot make venerable those whom it shews to so many people 
to be contemptible. And this brings its penalty with it: wicked 
people bring a like quality into their positions, and stain them 
with their infection. 

"Now I would have you consider the matter thus, that you 
may recognise that true veneration cannot be won through 
these shadowy honours. If a man who had filled the office of 
consul many times in Rome, came by chance into a country 
of barbarians, would his high position make him venerated 
by the barbarians? Yet if this were a natural quality in such 
dignities, they would never lose their effective function in any 
land, just as fire is never aught but hot in all countries. But 
since they do not receive this quality of veneration from any 
force peculiar to themselves, but only from a connexion in the 
untrustworthy opinions of men, they become as nothing as 
soon as they are among those who do not consider these dig- 
nities as such. 

"But that is only in the case of foreign peoples. Among the 
very peoples where they had their beginnings, do these digni- 
ties last for ever? Consider how great was the power in Rome 

1 Decoratus was a minion of Theodoric. 

5O Boethius 

of old of the office of Prefect: now it is an empty name and a 
heavy burden upon the income of any man of Senator's rank. 
The prefect then, who was commissioner of the corn-market, 
was held to be a great man. Now there is no office more de- 
spised. For, as I said before, that which has no intrinsic beauty, 
sometimes receives a certain glory, sometimes loses it, ac- 
cording to the opinion of those who are concerned with it. 
If then high offices cannot make men venerated, if further- 
more they grow vile by the infection of bad men, if changes 
of time can end their glory, and, lastly, if they are held cheaply 
in the estimation of whole peoples, I ask you, so far from 
affording true beauty to men, what beauty have they in them- 
selves which men can desire? 

"Though Nero decked himself proudly with purple of Tyre 
and snow-white gems, none the less that man of rage and 
luxury lived ever hated of all. Yet would that evil man at 
times give his dishonoured offices to men who were revered. 
Who then could count men blessed, who to such a villain 
owed their high estate? 

(The vanity of kingdoms.) 

"Can kingdoms and intimacies with kings make people 
powerful? 'Certainly,' some may answer, 'in so far as their 
happiness is lasting.' But antiquity and our times too are full 
of examples of the contrary; examples of men whose happi- 
ness as kings has been exchanged for disaster. What wonder- 
ful power, which is found to be powerless even for its own 
preservation! But if this kingly power is really a source of 
happiness, surely then, if it fail in any way, it lessens the 
happiness it brings, and equally causes unhappiness. How- 
ever widely human empires may extend, there must be still 
more nations left, over whom each king does not reign. And 
so, in whatever direction this power ceases to make happy, 
thereby comes in power lessncss, which makes men unhappy; 
thus therefore there must be a greater part of unhappiness 

The Consolation of Philosophy 51 

in every king's estate. That tyrant 1 had learnt well the dan- 
gers of his lot, who likened the fear which goes with kingship 
to the terror inspired by a sword ever hanging overhead. What 
then is such a power, which cannot drive away the bite of cares, 
nor escape the stings of fear? 

"Yet these all would willingly live without fear, but they 
cannot, and yet they boast of their power. Think you a man 
is powerful when you see that he longs for that which he 
cannot bring to pass? Do you reckon a man powerful who 
walks abroad with dignity and attended by servants? A man 
who strikes fear into his subjects, yet fears them more himself? 
A man who must be at the mercy of those that serve him, in 
order that he may seem to have power? 

"Need I speak of intimacies with kings when kingship itself 
is shewn to be full of weakness? Not only when kings' powers 
fall are their friends laid low, but often even when their 
powers are intact. Nero compelled his friend and tutor, 
Seneca,* to choose how he would die. Papinianus, 8 for a long 
while a powerful courtier, was handed over to the soldiers' 
swords by the Emperor Antoninus. Yet each of these was 
willing to surrender all his power. Seneca even tried to give 
up all his wealth to Nero, and to seek retirement. But the 
very weight of their wealth and power dragged them down to 
ruin, and neither could do what he wished. 

"What then is that power, whose possessors fear it? In de- 
siring to possess which, you are not safe, and from which 
you cannot escape, even though you try to lay it down? What 
help are friends, made not by virtue but by fortune? The 
friend gained by good fortune becomes an enemy in ill-fortune. 

1 Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, shewed his flattering courtier Da- 
mocles, what it was to be a tyrant, by setting him in his own seat at a 
sumptuous banquet, but hung a sword above him by a hair. 

9 Seneca, the philosopher and wise counsellor of Nero, was by him 
compelled to commit suicide, A.D. 65. 

* Papinianus, the greatest lawyer of his time, was put to death by the 
Emperor Antoninus Caracalla, A.D. 212. 

52 Boethius 

And what plague can more effectually injure than an intimate 

"The man who would true power gain, must needs subdue 
his own wild thoughts: never must he let his passions triumph 
and yoke his neck by their foul bonds. For though the earth, 
as far as India's shore, tremble before the laws you give, 
though Thule bow to your service on earth's farthest bounds, 
yet if thou canst not drive away black cares, if thou canst not 
put to flight complaints, then is no true power thine. 

(The vanity of earthly glory, fame.) 

"How deceitful is fame often, and how base a thing it is! 
Justly did the tragic poet cry out, 1 'O Fame, Fame, how many 
lives of men of naught hast thou puffed up!' For many men 
have got a great name from the false opinions of the crowd. 
And what could be baser than such a thing? For those who 
are falsely praised, must blush to hear their praises. And if 
they are justly won by merits, what can they add to the pleas- 
ure of a wise man's conscience? For he measures his happiness 
not by popular talk, but by the truth of his conscience. If it 
attracts a man to make his name widely known, he must equal- 
ly think it a shame if it be not made known. But I have already 
said that there must be yet more lands into which the renown 
of a single man can never come; wherefore it follows that the 
man, whom you think famous, will seem to have no such fame 
in the next quarter of the earth. 

"Popular favour seems to me to be unworthy even of men- 
tion under this head, for it comes not by any judgment, and is 
never constant. 

(The vanity of noble birth.) 

"Again, who can but see how empty a name, and how futile, 
is noble birth? For if its glory is due to renown, it belongs not 

1 Euripides, Andromache, 1. 319-320. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 53 

to the man. For the glory of noble birth seems to be praise for 
the merits of a man's forefathers. But if praise creates the 
renown, it is the renowned who are praised. Wherefore, if you 
have no renown of your own, that of others cannot glorify you. 
But if there is any good in noble birth, I conceive it to be this, 
and this alone, that the highborn seem to be bound in honour 
not to show any degeneracy from their fathers' virtue. 

"From like beginning rise all men on earth, for there is one 
Father of all things; one is the guide of everything. Tis 
He who gave the sun his rays, and horns unto the moon. 'Tis 
He who set mankind on earth, and in the heavens the stars. He 
put within our bodies spirits which were born in heaven. And 
thus a highborn race has He set forth in man. Why do ye men 
rail on your forefathers? If ye look to your beginning and your 
author, which is God, is any man degenerate or base but he 
who by his own vices cherishes base things and leaves that 
beginning which was his? 

(The vanity of the lusts oj the flesh.) 

"And now what am I to say of the pleasures of the body? 
The desires of the flesh are full of cares, their fulfilment is full 
of remorse. What terrible diseases, what unbearable griefs, 
truly the fruits of sin, do they bring upon the bodies of those 
who enjoy them! I know not what pleasure their impulse 
affords, but any who cares to recall his indulgences of his pas- 
sions, will know that the results of such pleasures are indeed 
gloomy. If any can shew that those results are blest with hap* 
pincss, then may the beasts of the field be justly called blessed, 
for all their aims are urged toward the satisfying of theit 
bodies' wants. The pleasures of wife and children may be 
most honourable; but nature makes it all too plain that some 
have found torment in their children. How bitter is any such 
kind of suffering, I need not tell you now, for you have never 
known it, nor have any such anxiety now. Yet in this matter 

54 Boethius 

I would hold with my philosopher Euripides, 1 that he who has 
no children is happy in his misfortune. 

"All pleasures have this way: those who enjoy them they 
drive on with stings. Pleasure, like the winged bee, scatters its 
honey sweet, then flies away, and with a clinging sting it strikes 
the hearts it touches. 

(All these vanities are actually harmful.) 

"There is then no doubt that these roads to happiness are 
no roads, and they cannot lead any man to any end whither 
they profess to take him. I would shew you shortly with what 
great evils they are bound up. Would you heap up money? 
You will need to tear it from its owner. Would you seem 
brilliant by the glory of great honours? You must kneel before 
their dispenser, and in your desire to surpass other men in 
honour, you must debase yourself by setting aside all pride. 
Do you long for power? You will be subject to the wiles of all 
over whom you have power, you will be at the mercy of many 
dangers. You seek fame? You will be drawn to and fro among 
rough paths, and lose all freedom from care. Would you spend 
a life of pleasure? Who would not despise and cast off such 
servitude to so vile and brittle a thing as your body? How 
petty are all the aims of those who put before themselves the 
pleasures of the body, how uncertain is the possession of such? 
In bodily size will you ever surpass the elephant? In strength 
will you ever lead the bull, or in speed the tiger? Look upon 
the expanse of heaven, the strength with which it stands, the 
rapidity with which it moves, and cease for a while to wonder 
at base things. This heaven is not more wonderful for those 
things than for the design which guides it. How sweeping is 
the brightness of outward form, how swift its movement, yet 
more fleeting than the passing of the flowers of spring. But if, 
as Aristotle says, many could use the eyes of lynxes to see 
through that which meets the eye, then if they saw into the 

1 Referring to lines in the Andromache (419-420), where Euripides 
says: 'The man who complains that he has no children suffers less 
than he who has them, and is blest in his misfortune." 

The Consolation of Philosophy 55 

organs within, would not that body, though it had the most 
fair outside of Alcibiades, 1 seem most vile within? Wherefore 
it is not your own nature, but the weakness of the eyes of 
them that see you, which makes you seem beautiful. But con- 
sider how in excess you desire the pleasures of the body, when 
you know that howsoever you admire it, it can be reduced to 
nothing by a three-days' fever. To put all these points then 
in a word: these things cannot grant the good which they 
promise; they are not made perfect by the union of all good 
things in them ; they do not lead to happiness as a path thither ; 
they do not make men blessed. 2 

"Ah! how wretched are they whom ignorance leads astray 
by her crooked path! Ye seek not gold upon green trees, nor 
gather precious stones from vines, nor set your nets on moun- 
tain tops to catch the fishes for your feast, nor hunt the Um- 
brian sea in search of goats. Man knows the depths of the sea 
themselves, hidden though they be beneath its waves; he 
knows which water best yields him pearls, and which the 
scarlet dye. But in their blindness men are content, and know 
not where lies hid the good which they desire. They sink in 
earthly things, and there they seek that which has soared above 
the star-lit heavens. What can I call down upon them worthy 
of their stubborn folly? They go about in search of wealth 
and honours; and only when they have by labours vast stored 
up deception for themselves, do they at last know what is their 
true good. 

"So far," she continued, "we have been content to set forth 
the form of false happiness. If you clearly understand that, my 
next duty is to shew what is true happiness." 

"I do see," said I, "that wealth cannot satisfy, that power 
comes not to kingdoms, nor veneration to high offices; that 
true renown cannot accompany ambition, nor true enjoyment 
wait upon the pleasures of the body." 

1 Alcibiades was the most handsome and brilliantly fascinating of all 
the public men of Athens in her most brilliant period. 

8 Compare Philosophy's first words about the highest good, p. 43. 

5 6 Boethius 

"Have you grasped the reasons why it is so?" she asked. 
"I seem to look at them as through a narrow chink, but I 
would learn more clearly from you." 

(Philosophy begins to examine true happiness.) 

"The reason is to hand," said she; "human error takes that 
which is simple and by nature impossible to divide, tries to 
divide it, and turns its truth and perfection into falsity and 
imperfection. Tell me, do you think that anything which lacks 
nothing, can be without power?" 

"Of course not." 

"You are right; for if anything has any weakness in any 
part, it must lack the help of something else." 

"That is so," I said. 

"Then perfect satisfaction and power have the same 

"Yes, it seems so." 

"And do you think such a thing contemptible, or the oppo- 
site, worthy of all veneration?" 

"There can be no doubt that it is worthy." 

"Then let us add veneration to that satisfaction and power, 
and so consider these three as one." 

"Yes, we must add it if we wish to proclaim the truth." 

"Do you then think that this whole is dull and of no reputa- 
tion, or renowned with all glory? For consider it thus: we have 
granted that it lacks nothing, that it has all power and is 
worthy of all veneration; it must not therefore lack the glory 
which it cannot supply for itself, and thereby seem to be in 
any direction contemptible." 

"No," I said, "I must allow that it has glory too." 

"Therefore we must rank this glory equally with the other 

"Yes, we must." 

"Then that which lacks nothing from outside itself, which 
is all-powerful by its own might, which has renown and venera- 
tion, rriust surely be allowed to be most happy too?" 

The Consolation of Philosophy 57 

"I cannot imagine from what quarter unhappiness would 
creep into such a thing, wherefore we must grant that it is full 
of happiness if the other qualities remain existent." 

"Then it follows further, that though perfect satisfaction, 
power, glory, veneration, and happiness differ in name, they 
cannot differ at all in essence?" 

"They cannot." 

"This then," said she, "is a simple, single thing by nature, 
only divided by the mistakes of base humanity; and while 
men try to gain a part of that which has no parts, they fail 
both to obtain a fraction, which cannot exist, and the whole 
too after which they do not strive." 

"Tell me how they fail thus," I said. 

"One seeks riches by fleeing from poverty, and takes no 
thought of power," she answered, "and so he prefers to be 
base and unknown, and even deprives himself of natural pleas- 
ures lest he should part with the riches which he has gathered. 
Thus not even that satisfaction reaches the man who loses all 
power, who is stabbed by sorrow, lowered by his meanness, 
hidden by his lack of fame. Another seeks power only: he scak 
ters his wealth, he despises pleasures and honours which have 
no power, and sets no value upon glory. You see how many 
things such an one lacks. Sometimes he goes without neces- 
saries even, sometimes he feels the bite and torture of care; 
and as he cannot rid himself of these, he loses the power too 
which he sought above all things. The same argument may be 
applied to offices, glory, and pleasure. For since each one of 
these is the same as each other, any man who seeks one with * 
out the others, gains not even that one which he desires." 

"What then? "I asked. 

"If any man desires to obtain all together, he will be seek- 
ing the sum of happiness. But will he ever find that in these 
things which we have shewn cannot supply what they 


"Then happiness is not to be sought for among these things 

58 Boethius 

which are separately believed to supply each thing so sought" 

"Nothing could be more plainly true," I said. 

"Then you have before you the form of false happiness, and 
its causes; now turn your attention in the opposite direction, 
and you will quickly see the true happiness which I have 
promised to shew you." 

"But surely this is clear even to the blindest, and you 
shewed it before when you were trying to make clear the causes 
of false happiness. For if I mistake not, true and perfect hap- 
piness is that which makes a man truly satisfied, powerful, 
venerated, renowned, and happy. And (for I would have you 
see that I have looked deeply into the matter) I realize with- 
out doubt that that which can truly yield any one of these, 
since they are all one, is perfect happiness." 

"Ah! my son," said she, "I do see that you are blessed in 
this opinion, but I would have you add one thing." 

"What is that? "I asked. 

"Do you think that there is anything among mortals, and 
in our perishable lives, which could yield such a state?" 

"I do not think that there is, and I think that you have 
shewn this beyond the need of further proof." 

"These then seem to yield to mortals certain appearances 
of the true good, or some such imperfections; but they cannot 
give true and perfect good." 


"Since, then, you have seen what is true happiness, and 
what are the false imitations thereof, it now remains that you 
should learn whence this true happiness may be sought." 

"For that," said I, "I have been impatiently waiting." 

"But divine help must be sought in small things as well as 
great (as my pupil Plato says in his Timseus *) ; so what, think 
you, must we do to deserve to find the place of that highest 

1 Plato, Timccus, 27 C. (ch. v.) "All those who have even the least 
share of moderation, on undertaking any enterprise, small or great, 
always call upon God at the beginning." 

The Consolation of Philosophy 59 

"'Call," I said, "upon the Father of all, for if we do not do 
so, no undertaking would be rightly or duly begun." 
"You are right," said she; and thus she cried aloud *: 

(Philosophy invokes God's guidance.) 

"Thou who dost rule the universe with everlasting law, 
founder of earth and heaven alike, who hast bidden time stand 
forth from our Eternity, for ever firm Thyself, yet giving 
movement unto all. No causes were without Thee which could 
thence impel Thee to create this mass of changing matter, but 
within Thyself exists the very idea of perfect good, which 
grudges naught, for of what can it have envy? Thou makest 
all things follow that high pattern. In perfect beauty Thou 
movest in Thy mind a world of beauty, making all in a like 
image, and bidding the perfect whole to complete its perfect 
functions. All the first principles of nature Thou dost bind 
together by perfect orders as of numbers, so that they may be 
balanced each with its opposite: cold with heat, and dry with 
moist together; thus fire may not fly upward too swiftly be- 
cause too purely, nor may the weight of the solid earth drag 
it down and overwhelm it. Thou dost make the soul as a third 
between mind and material bodies: to these the soul gives life 
and movement, for Thou dost spread it abroad among the 
members of the universe, now working in accord. Thus is the 
soul divided as it takes its course, making two circles, as though 
a binding thread around the world. Thereafter it returns unto 
itself and passes around the lower earthly mind; and in like 
manner it gives motion to the heavens to turn their course. 
Thou it is who dost carry forward with like inspiration these 
souls and lower lives. Thou dost fill these weak vessels with 
lofty souls, and send them abroad throughout the heavens and 
earth, and by Thy kindly law dost turn them again to Thyself 
and bring them to seek, as fire doth, to rise to Thee again. 

1 This hymn is replete with the highest development of Plato's theory 
of ideas, as expressed in the Timceus, and his theory of the ideal good 
being the moving spirit of the material world. Compare also the specula- 
tive portion of Virgil, Mneid, vi. 

60 Boethius 

"Grant them, O Father, that this mind of ours may rise to 
Thy throne of majesty; grant us to reach that fount of good. 
Grant that we may so find light that we may set on Thee un- 
blinded eyes; cast Thou therefrom the heavy clouds of this 
material world. Shine forth upon us in Thine own true glory. 
Thou art the bright and peaceful rest of all Thy children that 
worship Thee. To see Thee clearly is the limit of our aim. 
Thou art our beginning, our progress, our guide, our way, 
our end. 

(Philosophy discourses on the union of the highest good with God.) 

"Since then you have seen the form both of the imperfect 
and the perfect good, I think I should now shew you where 
lies this perfection of happiness. In this I think our first inquiry 
must be whether any good of this kind can exist in the very 
nature of a subject; for we must not let any vain form of 
thought make us miss the truth of this matter. But there can 
be no denial of its existence, that it is as the very source of all 
good. For if anything is said to be imperfect, it is held to be 
so by some loss of its perfection. Wherefore if in any kind of 
thing a particular seems imperfect, there must also be a perfect 
specimen in the same kind. For if you take away the perfec- 
tion, it is impossible even to imagine whence could come the 
so-called imperfect specimen. For nature does not start from 
degenerate or imperfect specimens, but starting from the per- 
fect and ideal, it degenerates to these lower and weaker forms. 
If then, as we have shewn above, there is an uncertain and 
imperfect happiness to be found in the good, then there must 
doubtless be also a sure and perfect happiness therein." 1 
"Yes," said I, "that is quite surely proved to be true." 
"Now consider," she continued, "where it lies. The uni- 
versally accepted notion of men proves that God, the fountain- 
head of all things, is good. For nothing can be thought of better 
than God, and surely He, than whom there is nothing better, 
must without doubt be good. Now reason shews us that God 

1 Tbis reasoning hangs upon Plato's theory of ideas, and so is the 
opposite of the theory of evolution. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 61 

is so good, that we are convinced that in Him lies also the 
perfect good. For if it is not so, He cannot be the fountain- 
head; for there must then be something more excellent, pos- 
sessing that perfect good, which appears to be of older origin 
than God: for it has been proved that all perfections are of 
earlier origin than the imperfect specimens of the same: where- 
fore, unless we are to prolong the series to infinity, we must 
allow that the highest Deity must be full of the highest, the 
perfect good. But as we have laid down that true happiness is 
perfect good, it must be that true happiness is situated in His 

"Yes, I accept that; it cannot be in any way contradicted." 

"But," she said, "I beg you, be sure that you accept with a 
sure conscience and determination this fact, that we have said 
that the highest Deity is filled with the highest good." 

"How should I think of it?" I asked. 

"You must not think of God, the Father of all, whom we 
hold to be filled with the highest good, as having received this 
good into Himself from without, nor that He has it by nature 
in such a manner that you might consider Him, its possessor, 
and the happiness possessed, as having different essential 
existence. For if you think that good has been received from 
without, that which gave it must be more excellent than that 
which received it; but we have most rightly stated that He is 
the most excellent of all things. And if you think that it is in 
Him by His nature, but different in kind, then, while we speak 
of God as the fountain-head of all things, who could imagine 
by whom these different kinds can have been united? Lastly, 
that which is different from anything cannot be the thing from 
which it differs. So anything which is by its nature different 
from the highest good, cannot be the highest good. And this 
we must not think of God, than whom there is nothing more 
excellent, as we have agreed. Nothing in this world can have 
a nature which is better than its origin, wherefore I would 
conclude that that which is the origin of all things, according 
to the truest reasoning, is by its essence the highest good." 

"Most truly," I said. 

62 Boethius 

"You agree that the highest good is happiness?" 


"Then you must allow that God is absolute happiness?" 

"I cannot deny what you put forward before, and I see that 
this follows necessarily from those propositions." 

"Look then," she said, "whether it is proved more strongly 
by this too: there cannot be two highest goods which are 
different. For where two good things are different, the one 
cannot be the other; wherefore neither can be the perfect good, 
while each is lacking to the other. And that which is not perfect 
cannot be the highest, plainly. Therefore if two things are 
highest good, they cannot be different. Further, we have 
proved to ourselves that both happiness and God are each the 
highest good. Therefore the highest Deity must be identical 
with the highest happiness." 

"No conclusion," I said, "could be truer in fact, or more 
surely proved by reason, or more worthy of our God." 

"Besides this let me give you corollary, as geometricians do, 
when they wish to add a point drawn from the propositions 
they have proved. Since men become happy by acquiring hap- 
piness, and happiness is identical with divinity, it is plain that 
they become happy by acquiring divinity. But just as men 
become just by acquiring the quality of justice, and wise by 
wisdom, so by the same reasoning, by acquiring divinity they 
become divine. Every happy man then is divine. But while 
nothing prevents as many men as possible from being divine, 
God is so by His nature, men become so by participation." 

"This corollary," I said, "or whatever you call it, is indeed 
beautiful and very precious." 

"Yes, but nothing can be more beautiful than this too which 
reason would have us add to what we have agreed upon." 

"What is that? "I asked. 

"Happiness seems to include many things: do all these join 
it together as into a whole which is happiness, as though each 
thing were a different part thereof, or is any one of them 
a good which fulfils the essence of happiness, and do the others 
merely bear relations to this one?" 

The Consolation of Philosophy 63 

"I would have you make this plain by the enunciation of 
these particulars." 

"Do we not," she asked, "hold that happiness is a good 

"Yes," I answered, "the highest good." 

"But you may apply this quality of happiness to them all. 
For the perfect satisfaction is the same, and the highest power, 
and veneration, and renown, and pleasure; these are all held 
to be happiness." 

"What then? "I asked. 

"Are all these things, satisfaction, power, and the others, as 
it were, members of the body, happiness, or do they all bear 
their relation to the good, as members to a head?" 

"I understand what you propose to examine, but I am wait- 
ing eagerly to hear what you will lay down." 

"I would have you take the following explanation," she said. 
"If these were all members of the one body, happiness, they 
would differ individually. For this is the nature of particulars, 
to make up one body of different parts. But all these have been 
shewn to be one and the same. Therefore they are not as mem- 
bers; and further, this happiness will then appear to be joined 
together into a whole body out of one member, which is 

"That is quite certain," said I, "but I would hear what is to 

"It is plain that the others have some relation to the good. It 
is for that reason, namely because it is held to be good, that 
this satisfaction is sought, and power likewise, and the others 
too; we may suppose the same of veneration, renown, and 
pleasure. The good then is the cause of the desire for all of 
these, and their consummation also. Such a thing as has in 
itself no real or even pretended good, cannot ever be sought. 
On the other hand, such things as are not by nature good, but 
seem to be so, are sought as though they were truly good. 
Wherefore we may justly believe that their good quality is the 
cause of the desire for them, the very hinge on which they 
turn, and their consummation. The really important object 

64 Boethius 

of a desire, is that for the sake of which anything is sought, as 
a means. For instance, if a man wishes to ride for the sake of 
his health, he does not so much desire the motion of riding, as 
the effect, namely health. As, therefore, each of these things 
is desired for the sake of the good, the absolute good is the 
aim, rather than themselves. But we have agreed that the other 
things are desired for the sake of happiness, wherefore in this 
case too, it is happiness alone which is the object of the desire. 
Wherefore it is plain that the essence of the good and of hap- 
piness is one and the same." 

"I cannot see how any one can think otherwise." 

"But we have shewn that God and true happiness are one 
and the same." 


"Therefore," said she, "we may safely conclude that the 
essence of God also lies in the absolute good and nowhere else. 

"Come hither all who are the prey of passions, bound by 
their ruthless chains; those deceiving passions which blunt the 
minds of men. Here shall you find rest from your labours; here 
a haven lying in tranquil peace; this shall be a resting-place 
open to receive within itself all the miserable on earth. Not all 
the wealth of Tagus's golden sands, nor Hermus's gleaming 
strand, 1 nor Indus, nigh earth's hottest zone, mingling its 
emeralds and pearls, can bring light to the eyes of any soul, 
but rather plunge the soul more blindly in their shade. In her 
deepest caverns does earth rear all that pleases the eye and 
excites the mind. The glory by which the heavens move and 
have their being, has nought to do with the darknesses which 
bring ruin to the soul. Whosoever can look on this true light 
will scarce allow the sun's rays to be clear." 

"I cannot but agree with that," I said, "for it all stands 
woven together by the strongest proofs." 

1 The modern Sarabat, in Asia Minor, formerly auriferous. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 65 

Then she said*, "At what would you value this, namely if 
you could find out what is the absolute good?" 

"I would reckon it," I said, "at an infinite value, if I could 
find out God too, who is the good." 

"And that too I will make plain by most true reasoning, if 
you will allow to stand the conclusions we have just now 
arrived at." 

"They shall stand good." 

(Philosophy discourses upon the unity which is the highest good.} 

"Have I not shewn," she asked, "that those things which 
most men seek are for this reason not perfect goods, because 
they differ between themselves; they are lacking to one an- 
other, and so cannot afford full, absolute good? But when they 
are gathered together, as it were, into one form and one opera- 
tion, so that complete satisfaction, power, veneration, renown, 
and pleasure are all the same, then they become the true good. 
Unless they are all one and the same, they have no claim to be 
reckoned among the true objects of men's desires." 

"That has been proved beyond all doubt." 

"Then such things as differ among themselves are not goods, 
but they become so when they begin to be a single unity. Is it 
not then the case these become goods by the attainment of 

"Yes," I said, "it seems so." 

"But I think you allow that every good is good by partici- 
pation in good?" 

"Yes, I do." 

"Then by reason of this likeness both unity and good must 
be allowed to be the same thing; for such things as have by 
nature the same operation, have the same essence." 


"Do you realise that everything remains existent so long as 
it keeps its unity, but perishes in dissolution as soon as it loses 
its unity?" 

"How so?" I asked. 

"In the case of animals/' she said, "so long as mind and 

66 Boethius 

body remain united, you have what you call an animal. But as 
soon as this unity is dissolved by the separation of the two, 
the animal perishes and can plainly be no longer called an 
animal. In the case of the body, too, so long as it remains in a 
single form by the union of its members, the human figure is 
presented. But if the division or separation of the body's parts 
drags that union asunder, it at once ceases to be what it was. 
In this way one may go through every subject, and it will be 
quite evident that each thing exists individually, so long as it 
is one, but perishes so soon as it ceases to be one." 

"Yes, I see the same when I think of other cases." 

"Is there anything," she then asked, "which, in so far as it 
acts by nature, ever loses its desire for self-preservation, and 
would voluntarily seek to come to death and corruption?" 

"No," I said; "while I think of animals which have volition 
in their nature, I can find in them no desire to throw away 
their determination to remain as they are, or to hasten to perish 
of their own accord, so long as there are no external forces 
compelling them thereto. Every animal labours for its preser- 
vation, shunning death and extinction. But about trees and 
plants, I have great doubts as to what I should agree to in 
their case, and in all inanimate objects." 

"But in this case too," she said, "you have no reason to be 
in doubt, when you see how trees and plants grow in places 
which suit them, and where, so far as nature is able to prevent 
it, they cannot quickly wither and perish. For some grow in 
plains, others on mountains; some are nourished by marshes, 
others cling to rocks; some are fertilised by otherwise barren 
sands, and would wither away if one tried to transplant them 
to better soil. Nature grants to each what suits it, and works 
against their perishing while they can possibly remain alive. 
I need hardly remind you that all plants seem to have their 
mouths buried in the earth, and so they suck up nourishment 
by their roots and diffuse their strength through their pith and 
bark: the pith being the softest part is always hidden away at 
the heart and covered, protected, as it were, by the strength 
of the wood; while outside, the bark, as being the defender 

The Consolation of Philosophy 67 

who endures the best, is opposed to the unkindness of the 
weather. Again, how great is nature's care, that they should all 
propagate themselves by the reproduction of their seed; they 
all, as is so well known, are like regular machines not merely 
for lasting a time, but for reproducing themselves for ever, 
and that by their own kinds. Things too which are supposed 
to be inanimate, surely do all seek after their own by a like 
process. For why is flame carried upward by its lightness, 
while solid things are carried down by their weight, unless it 
be that these positions and movements are suitable to each? 
Further, each thing preserves what is suitable to itself, and 
what is harmful, it destroys. Hard things, such as stones, 
cohere with the utmost tenacity of their parts, and resist easy 
dissolution; while liquids, water, and air, yield easily to divi- 
sion, but quickly slip back to mingle their parts which have 
been cut asunder. And fire cannot be cut at all. 

"We are not now discussing the voluntary movements of a 
reasoning mind, but the natural instinct. For instance, we 
unwittingly digest the food we have eaten, and unconsciously 
breathe in sleep. Not even in animals does this love of self- 
preservation come from mental wishes, but from elementary 
nature. For often the will, under stress of external causes, 
embraces the idea of death, from which nature revolts in 
horror. 1 And, on the other hand, the will sometimes restrains 
what nature always desires, namely the operation of begetting, 
by which alone the continuance of mortal things becomes en- 
during. Thus far, then, this love of self-preservation arises not 
from the reasoning animal's intention, but from natural in- 
stinct. Providence has given to its creatures this the greatest 
cause of permanent existence, the instinctive desire to remain 
existent so far as possible. Wherefore you have no reason to 
doubt that all things, which exist, seek a permanent existence 
by nature, and similarly avoid extinction." 

1 Boethius is possibly thinking here of passages in Plato's Republic, 
Bk. iv. (439-441), where Socrates points out the frequent opposition of 
reason and instinct. 

68 Boethius 

"Yes," I said, "I confess that I see now beyond all doubt 
what appeared to me just now uncertain." 

"But," she continued, "that which seeks to continue its 
existence, aims at unity; for take this way, and none will have 
any chance of continued existence." 

"That is true." 

"Then all things desire unity," she said, and I agreed. 

"But we have shewn unity to be identical with the good?" 

"Yes," said I. 

"Then all things desire the good; and that you may define 
as being the absolute good which is desired by all." 

"Nothing could be more truthfully reasoned. For either 
everything is brought back to nothing, and all will flow on at 
random with no guiding head; or if there is any universal aim, 
it will be the sum of all good." 

"Great is my rejoicing, my son/' said she, "for you have set 
firmly in your mind the mark of the central truth. And hereby 
is made plain to you that which you a short time ago said that 
you knew not." 

"What was that?" 

"What was the final aim of all things," she said, "for that is 
plainly what is desired by all: since we have agreed that that 
is the good, we must confess that the good is the end of all 

"If any man makes search for truth with all his penetration, 
and would be led astray by no deceiving paths, let him turn 
upon himself the light of an inward gaze, let him bend by 
force the long-drawn wanderings of his thoughts into one 
circle; let him tell surely to his soul, that he has, thrust away 
within the treasures of his mind, all that he labours to acquire 
without. Then shall that truth, which now was hid in error's 
darkening cloud, shine forth more clear than Phcebus's self. 
For the body, though it brings material mass which breeds 
forgetfulness, has never driven forth all light from the mind. 
The seed of truth does surely cling within, and can be roused 
as a spark by the fanning of philosophy. For if it is not so, 

The Consolation of Philosophy 69 

how do ye men make answers true of your own instinct when 
teachers question you? Is it not that the quick spark of truth 
lies buried in the heart's low depths? And if the Muse of Plato 
sends through those depths the voice of truth, each man has 
not forgotten and is but reminding himself of what he learns." 1 
When she made an end, I said, "I agree very strongly with 
Plato ; for this is the second time that you have reminded me 
of these thoughts. The first time I had lost them through the 
material influence of the body; the second, when overwhelmed 
by this weight of trouble." 

{Philosophy shews that God rules the universe for the highest good.) 

"If," said she, "you look back upon what we have agreed 
upon earlier, you will also soon recall what you just now said 
you knew not." 

"What is that?" I asked. 

"The guidance by which the universe is directed." 

"Yes, I remember confessing my ignorance, and though 1 
think I foresee the answer you will offer, I am eager to hear 
you explain it more fully." 

"This world," she said, "you thought a little while ago must 
without doubt be guided by God." 

"And I think so now," I said, "and will never think there 
is any doubt thereof; and I will shortly explain by what rea- 
soning I arrive at that point. This universe would never have 
been suitably put together into one form from such various 
and opposite parts, unless there were some One who joined such 
different parts together; and when joined, the very variety of 
their natures, so discordant among themselves, would break 
their harmony and tear them asunder unless the One held to- 
gether what it wove into one whole. Such a fixed order of 
nature could not continue its course, could not develop motions 
taking such various directions in place, time, operation, space, 
and attributes, unless there were One who, being immutable, 
had the disposal of these various changes. And this cause of 

1 Plato's doctrine of remembrance is chiefly treated of in his Phcedo 
and Meno. 

7O Boethius 

their remaining fixed and their moving, I call God, according 
to the name familiar to all." 

Then said she, "Since these are your feelings, I think there 
is but little trouble left me before you may revisit your home 
with happiness in your grasp. But let us look into the matter 
we have set before ourselves. Have we not shewn that com- 
plete satisfaction exists in true happiness, and we have agreed 
that God is happiness itself, have we not?" 

"We have." 

"Wherefore He needs no external aid in governing the uni- 
verse, or, if He had any such need, He would not have this 
complete sufficiency." 

"That of necessity follows," I said. 

"Then He arranges all things by Himself." 

"Without doubt He does." 

"And God has been shewn to be the absolute good." 

"Yes, I remember." 

"Then He arranges all things by good, if He arranges them 
by Himself, whom we have agreed to be the absolute good. 
And so this is the tiller and rudder by which the ship of the 
universe is kept sure and unbreakable." 

"I feel that most strongly," I said; "and I foresaw that you 
would say so before, though I had a slight uncertainty." 

"I believe you," she said, "for now you bring your eyes 
more watchfully to scan the truth. But what I am going to say 
is no less plain to the sight." 

"What is that?" 

"Since we may reasonably be sure that God steers all things 
by the helm of goodness, and, as I have shewn you, all things 
have a natural instinct to hasten towards the good, can there 
be any doubt that they are guided according to their own will: 
and that of their own accord they turn to the will of the 
supreme disposer, as though agreeing with, and obedient to, 
the helmsman?" 

"That is so," I said, "and the government would not seem 
happy if it was a yoke upon discontented necks, and not the 
salvation of the submissive." 

The Consolation of Philosophy 71 

"Then nothing need oppose God's way for its own nature's 


"But if it try to oppose Him, will it ever have any success 
at all against One whom we have justly allowed to be supreme- 
ly powerful in matters of happiness?" 

"Certainly not." 

"Then there is nothing which could have the will or the 
power to resist the highest good?" 

"I think not." 

"Then it is the highest good which is guiding with strength 
and disposing with gentleness?" 

Then said I, "How great pleasure these things give me! Not 
only those which have been proved by the strongest argu- 
ments, but still more the words in which you prove them, 
which make me ashamed that my folly has bragged so loudly." 

"You have heard in mythology how the giants attacked 
heaven. It was this kindly strength which overthrew them too, 
as was their desert. But would you care to put these arguments 
at variance? For perhaps from such a friction, some fair spark 
of truth may leap forth." 

"As you hold best," I said. 

"Nobody would care to doubt that God is all-powerful?" 

"At any rate, no sane man would doubt it." 

"Being, then, all-powerful, nothing is beyond His power?" 


"Can, then, God do evil?" 


"Then evil is nothing, since it is beyond His power, and 
nothing is beyond His power?" 

"Are you playing with me," I asked, "weaving arguments 
as a labyrinth out of which I shall find no way? You may enter 
a labyrinth by the way by which you may come forth: come 
now forth by the way you have gone in: or are you folding 
your reason in some wondrous circle of divine simplicity? A 
little while ago you started from happiness, and said that hap- 
piness was the highest good; and you shewed how that rested 

72 Boethius 

in the highest Deity. And you reasoned that God too was the 
highest good, and the fullest happiness; and you allowed, as 
though granting a slight gift, that none could be happy except 
such as were similarly divine. Again, you said that the essence 
of God and of happiness was identical with the very form of 
good ; and that that alone was good which was sought by all 
nature. And you argued, too, that God guided this universe 
by the helm of goodness; and that all creatures with free will 
obeyed this guidance, and that there was no such thing as 
natural evil; and all these things you developed by no help 
from without, but by homely and internal proofs, each gaining 
its credence from that which went before it." 

Then she answered, "I was not mocking you. We have 
worked out the greatest of all matters by the grace of God, to 
whom we prayed. For the form of the divine essence is such 
that it is not diffused without, nor receives aught into itself 
from without. But as Parmenides says of it, "It is a mass well 
rounded upon all sides." * But if you examine it with reason- 
ing, sought for not externally but by lying within the sphere 
of the very thing we are handling, you will not wonder at what 
you have learnt on Plato's authority, 2 that our language must 
be akin to the subjects of which we speak. 

"Happy the man who could reach the crystal fount of good: 
happy he who could shake off the chains of matter and of 
earth. The singer of Thrace in olden time lamented his dead 
wife: by his tearful strains he made the trees to follow him, 
and bound the flowing streams to stay: for him the hind would 
fearlessly go side by side with fiercest lions, and the hare would 

1 This is a verse from the poems in which Parmenides embodied his 
philosophy : this was the doctrine of the unity which must have been 
in Boethius's mind above. Parmenides, the founder of the Eleatic school 
(495 B.C.), was perhaps, considering his early date, the greatest and 
most original of Greek philosophers. Boethius probably did not make 
a clear distinction between the philosopher's own poems and the views 
expressed in Plato's Parmenides. 

8 Plato in the Timaus says, "The language must also be akin to the 
subjects of which its words are the interpreters" (29 B.). 

The Consolation of Philosophy 73 

look upon the hound, nor be afraid, for he was gentle under the 
song's sway. But when the hotter flame burnt up his inmost 
soul, even the strains, which had subdued all other things, 
could not soothe their own lord's mind. Complaining of the 
hard hearts of the gods above, he dared approach the realms 
below. There he tuned his songs to soothing tones, and sang 
the lays he had drawn from his mother's 1 fount of excellence. 
His unrestrained grief did give him power, his love redoubled 
his grief's power: his mourning moved the depths of hell. With 
gentlest prayers he prayed to the lords of the shades for grace. 
The three-headed porter 2 was taken captive with amazement 
at his fresh songs. The avenging goddesses, 3 who haunt with 
fear the guilty, poured out sad tears. Ixion's 4 wheel no longer 
swiftly turned. Tantalus, 5 so long abandoned unto thirst, could 
then despise the flowing stream. The vulture, satisfied by his 
strains, tore not a while at Tityos's heart. At last the lord of 
the shades 7 in pity cried: "We are conquered; take your bride 
with you, bought by your song; but one condition binds our 
gift: till she has left these dark abodes, turn not your eyes upon 
her." Who shall set a law to lovers? Love is a greater law unto 
itself. Alack! at the very bounds of darkness Orpheus looked 
upon his Eurydice; looked, and lost her, and was lost himself. 
"To you too this tale refers; you, who seek to lead your 
thoughts to the light above. For whosoever is overcome of de- 
sire, and turns his gaze upon the darkness 'neath the earth, he, 
while he looks on hell, loses the prize he carried off." 

1 Orpheus's mother was the Muse Calliope, mistress of the Castalian 

2 The dog Cerberus. 

3 The Furies. 

4 Ixion for his crimes was bound upon a rolling wheel. 

6 Tantalus for his crimes was condemned to perpetual hunger and thirst 
though surrounded by fruits and water which ever eluded his grasp. 

Tityos for his crimes was for ever fastened to the ground, while a 
vulture devoured his entrails. 

7 Pluto. 


(They discuss the possibility of evil in God's world.) 

THUS gently sang the Lady Philosophy with dignified mien 
and grave countenance; and when she ceased, I, who had not 
thoroughly forgotten the grief within me, interrupted her as 
she was about to speak further. "Herald of true light," I said, 
"right clear have been the outpourings of your speech till now, 
seeming inspired as one contemplates them, and invincible 
through your reasonings. And though through grief for the 
injustices I suffer, I had forgotten them, yet you have not 
spoken of what I knew not at all before. But this one thing is 
the chief cause of my grief, namely that, when there exists a 
good governor of the world, evils should exist at all, or, exist- 
ing, should go unpunished. I would have you think how strange 
is this fact alone. But there is an even stranger attached there- 
to: ill-doing reigns and flourishes, while virtue not only lacks 
its reward, but is even trampled underfoot by wicked doers, 
and pays the penalties instead of crime. Who can wonder and 
complain enough that such things should happen under the 
rule of One who, while all-knowing and all-powerful, wills good 

Then she answered: "Yes, it would be most terrible, mon- 
strous, and infinitely amazing if it were as you think. It would 
be as though in a well-ordered house of a good master, the 
vilest vessels were cared for while the precious were left de- 
filed. But it is not so. If our former conclusions are unshaken, 
God Himself, of whose government we speak, will teach you 
that the good are always powerful, the evil are always the 
lowest and weakest; vice never goes unpunished; virtue never 
goes without its own reward; happiness comes to the good, 
misfortune to the wicked: and when your complaints are set 


The Consolation of Philosophy 75 

at rest, many such things would most firmly strengthen you in 
this opinion. You have seen now from my teaching the form 
of true happiness; you know now its place: let us go quickly 
through all that must be lightly passed over, and let me shew 
you the road which shall lead you to your home. I will give 
wings to your mind, by which it shall raise itself aloft: so 
shall disquiet be driven away, and you may return safe to your 
home by my guidance, by the path I shall shew you, even by 
myself carrying you thither. 

"Yea, airy wings are mine to scale the heights of heaven; 
when these the mind has donned, swiftly she loathes and 
spurns this earth. She soars above the sphere of this vast 
atmosphere, sees the clouds behind her far; she passes high 
above the topmost fires which seethe above the feverish tur- 
moil of the air, 1 until she rises to the stars' own home, and 
joins her path unto the sun's; or accompanies on her path the 
cold and ancient Saturn, maybe as the shining warrior Mars; 
or she may take her course through the circle of every star 
that decks the night. And when she has had her fill of journey- 
ing, then may she leave the sky and tread the outer plane of 
the swift moving air, as mistress of the awful light. Here holds 
the King of Kings His sway, and guides the reins of the uni- 
verse, and Himself unmoved He drives His winged chariot, 
the bright disposer of the world. And if this path brings thee 
again hither, the path that now thy memory seeks to recall, 
I tell thee, thou shalt say, 'This is my home, hence was I de- 
rived, here shall I stay my course.' But if thou choose to look 
back upon the earthly night behind thee, thou shalt see as 
exiles from light the tyrants whose grimness made wretched 
peoples so to fear." 

"Wondrous," I cried; "what vast things do you promise! 
And I doubt not that you can fulfil them. I only beg that you 

lr This and some of the following lines allude to some of the theories 
of the early Physicists. 

76 Boethius 

will not hold me back with delays, now that you have excited 
me thus far." 

(Philosophy argues that the good are powerful, the bad are weak.) 

"First, then, you must learn that power is never lacking 
to the good, while the wicked are devoid of all strength. The 
proofs of these two statements hang upon each other. For 
good and bad are opposites, and therefore, if it is allowed 
that good is powerful, the weakness of evil is manifest: if the 
weakness and uncertainty of evil is made plain, the strength 
and sureness of good is proved. To gain more full credit for 
my opinion, I will go on to make my argument sure by first 
the one, then the other of the two paths, side by side. 

"It is allowed that there are two things upon which depend 
the entire operation of human actions : they are will and power. 
For if the will be wanting, a man does not even attempt that 
which he has no desire to perform; if the power be wanting, 
the will is exercised in vain. Wherefore, if you see a man wish 
for that which he will in no wise gain, you cannot doubt that 
he lacks the power to attain that which he wishes." 

"That is plain beyond doubt." 

"And if you see a man gain that which he wishes, can you 
doubt that he has the power?" 


"But wherein a man has power, he is strong; wherein he 
has not power, he must be counted weak?" 


"Do you remember that we agreed from our earlier rea- 
sonings, that the instinct of all human will, though acted upon 
by different aims, does lead with eagerness towards happi- 

"Yes," said I, "I remember that that too was proved." 

"Do you remember that happiness is the absolute good, and 
that the good is desired of all, when in that manner happiness 
is sought?" 

"I need not recall that," I said, "since it is present fixedly 
in my memory." 

The Consolation oj Philosophy 77 

"Then all men, good and bad alike, seek to arrive at the 
good by no different instincts?" 

"Yes, that follows necessarily." 

"But it is certain that the good become so by the attain- 
ment of good?" 


"Then the good attain that which they wish?" 

"Yes," said I, "it seems so." 

"But if evil men attain the good they seek, they cannot 
be evil?" 


"Since, then, both classes seek the good, which the good 
attain, but the evil attain not, it is plain that the good are 
powerful, while the evil are weak?" 

"If any doubt that, he cannot judge by the nature of the 
world, nor by the sequence of arguments." 

Again she said, "If there are two persons before whom the 
same object is put by natural instinct, and one person carries 
his object through, working by his natural functions, but the 
other cannot put his natural instinct into practice, but using 
some function unsuitable to nature he can imitate the success- 
ful person, but not fulfil his original purpose, in this case, 
which of the two do you decide to be the more capable?" 

"I think I guess what you mean, but I would hear more 

"You will not, I think, deny that the motion of walking is 
a natural one to mankind?" 

"No, I will not." 

"And is not that the natural function of the feet?" 


"If, then, one man walks, being able to advance upon his 
feet, while another, who lacks the natural function of feet, 
uses his hands and so tries to walk, which of these two may 
justly be held the more capable?" 

"Weave me other riddles!" I exclaimed, "for can any one 
doubt that a man who enjoys his natural functions, is more 
capable than one who is incapable in that respect?" 

78 Boethius 

"But in the case of the highest good," she said, "it is equally 
the purpose set before good and bad men; good men seek it 
by the natural functions of virtue, while bad men seek to attain 
the same through their cupidity, which is not a natural func- 
tion for the attainment of good. Think you not so?" 

"I do indeed," said 1; "this is plain, as also is the deduction 
which follows. For it must be, from what I have already al- 
lowed, that the good are powerful, the wicked weak." 

"Your anticipation is right; and as doctors are wont to 
hope, it shews a lively nature now fit to withstand disease. But 
I see that you are very ready in understanding, and I will 
multiply my arguments one upon another. See how great is 
the weakness of these wicked men who cannot even attain 
that to which their natural instinct leads them, nay, almost 
drives them. And further, how if they are deprived of this 
great, this almost invincible, aid of a natural instinct to fol- 
low? Think what a powerlessness possesses these men. They 
are no light objects which they seek; they seek no objects in 
sport, objects which it is impossible that they should achieve. 
They fail in the very highest of all things, the crown of all, 
and in this they find none of the success for which they labour 
day and night in wretchedness. But herein the strength of good 
men is conspicuous. If a man could advance on foot till he 
arrived at an utmost point beyond which there was no path 
for further advance, you would think him most capable of 
walking: equally so, if a man grasps the very end and aim 
of his search, you must think him most capable. Wherefore 
also the contrary is true; that evil men are similarly deprived 
of all strength. For why do they leave virtue and follow after 
vice? Is it from ignorance of good? Surely not, for what is 
weaker or less compelling than the blindness of ignorance? Do 
they know what they ought to follow, and are they thrown 
from the straight road by passions? Then they must be weak 
too in self-control if they cannot struggle with their evil pas- 
sions. But they lose thus not only power, but existence all 
together. For those who abandon the common end of all who 
exist, must equally cease to exist. And this may seem strange, 

The Consolation of Philosophy 79 

that we should say that evil men, though the majority of 
mankind, do not exist at all; but it is so. For while I do not 
deny that evil men are evil, I do deny that they 'are/ in the 
sense of absolute existence. You may say, for instance, that 
a corpse is a dead man, but you cannot call it a man. In a like 
manner, though I grant that wicked men are bad, I cannot 
allow that they are men at all, as regards absolute being. A 
thing exists which keeps its proper place and preserves its 
nature; but when anything falls away from its nature, its 
existence too ceases, for that lies in its nature. You will say, 
'Evil men are capable of evil': and that I would not deny. 
But this very power of theirs comes not from strength, but 
from weakness. They are capable of evil; but this evil would 
have no efficacy if it could have stayed under the operation 
of good men. And this very power of ill shews the more plainly 
that their power is naught. For if, as we have agreed, evil is 
nothing, then, since they are only capable of evil, they are 
capable of nothing." 

"That is quite plain." 

"I would have you understand what is this strength of 
power. We have a little while ago laid down that nothing is 
more powerful than the highest good?" 

"Yes," I said. 

"But the highest good can do no evil?" 


"Is there any one who thinks that men are all-powerful?" 

"No one," I said, "unless he be mad." 

"And yet those same men can do evil." 

"Would to heaven they could not!" I cried. 

"Then a powerful man is capable only of all good; but 
even those who are capable of evil, are not capable of all: so 
it is plain that those who are capable of evil, are capable of 
less. Further, we have shewn that all power is to be counted 
among objects of desire, and all objects of desire have their 
relation to the good, as to the coping-stone of their nature. 
But the power of committing crime has no possible relation 
to the good. Therefore it is not an object of desire. Yet, as 

8o Boethius 

we said, all power is to be desired. Therefore the power of 
doing evil is no power at all. For all these reasons the power 
of good men and the weakness of evil men is apparent. So 
Plato's opinion 1 is plain that 'the wise alone are able to do 
what they desire, but unscrupulous men can only labour 
at what they like, they cannot fulfil their real desires.' They do 
what they like so long as they think that they will gain through 
their pleasures the good which they desire; but they do not 
gain it, since nothing evil ever reaches happiness. 

"Kings you may see sitting aloft upon their thrones, gleam- 
ing with purple, hedged about with grim guarding weapons, 
threatening with fierce glances, and their hearts heaving with 
passion. If any man take from these proud ones their outward 
covering of empty honour, he will see within, will see that these 
great ones bear secret chains. For the heart of one is thus 
filled by lust with the poisons of greed, or seething rage lifts 
up its waves and lashes his mind therewith: or gloomy grief 
holds them weary captives, or by slippery hopes they are 
tortured. So when you see one head thus labouring beneath 
so many tyrants, you know he cannot do as he would, for by 
hard task-masters is the master himself oppressed. 

(The good and the evil have their own rewards.) 
"Do you see then in what a slough crimes are involved, and 
with what glory honesty shines forth? It is plain from this that 
reward is never lacking to good deeds, nor punishment to 
crime. We may justly say that the reward of every act which 
is performed is the object for which it is performed. For in- 
stance, on the racecourse the crown for which the runner 
strives is his reward. But we have shewn that happiness is 

1 From Plato's Gorgias (466). Boethius in this and several other pas- 
sages in this book has the Gorgias in mind ; for Plato there discusses the 
strength and happiness of good men, and the impotence and unhappi- 
ness of bad men. Socrates is also there represented as proving that the 
unjust man is happier punished than unpunished, as Boethius does 

The Consolation of Philosophy 81 

the identical good for the sake of which all actions are per- 
formed. Therefore the absolute good is the reward put before 
all human actions. But good men cannot be deprived of this. 
And further, a man who lacks good cannot justly be de- 
scribed as a good man; wherefore we may say that good 
habits never miss their rewards. Let the wicked rage never so 
wildly, the wise man's crown shall never fail nor wither. And 
the wickedness of bad men can never take away from good 
men the glory which belongs to them. Whereas if a good man 
rejoiced in a glory which he received from outside, then could 
another, or even he, may be, who granted it, carry it away. 
But since honesty grants to every good man its own rewards, 
he will only lack his reward when he ceases to be good. And 
lastly, since every reward is sought for the reason that it is 
held to be good, who shall say that the man, who possesses 
goodness, does not receive his reward? And what reward is 
this? Surely the fairest and greatest of all. Remember that 
corollary 1 which I emphasised when speaking to you a little 
while ago; and reason thus therefrom. While happiness is the 
absolute good, it is plain that all good men become good by 
virtue of the very fact that they are good. But we agreed that 
happy men are as gods. Therefore this is the reward of the 
good, which no time can wear out, no power can lessen, no 
wickedness can darken; they become divine. In this case, 
then, no wise man can doubt of the inevitable punishment of 
the wicked as well. For good and evil are so set, differing from 
each other just as reward and punishment are in opposition 
to each other: hence the rewards, which we see fall to the 
good, must correspond precisely to the punishments of the 
evil on the other side. As, therefore, honestly is itself the re- 
ward of the honest, so wickedness is itself the punishment of 
the wicked. Now whosoever suffers punishment, doubts not 
that he is suffering an evil: if, then, they are ready so to judge 
of themselves, can they think that they do not receive punish- 

82 Boethius 

ment, considering that they are not only affected but thor- 
oughly permeated by wickedness, the worst of all evils? 

"Then, from the other point of view of the good, see what 
a punishment ever goes with the wicked. You have learnt a 
little while past that all that exists is one, and that the good 
itself is one; it follows therefrom that all that exists must 
appear to be good. In this way, therefore, all that falls away 
from the good, ceases also to exist, wherefore evil men cease 
to be what they were. The form of their human bodies still 
proves that they have been men; wherefore they must have 
lost their human nature when they turned to evil-doing. But 
as goodness alone can lead men forward beyond their hu- 
manity, so evil of necessity will thrust down below the hon- 
ourable estate of humanity those whom it casts down from 
their first position. The result is that you cannot hold him 
to be a man who has been, so to say, transformed by his vices. 
If a violent man and a robber burns with greed of other men's 
possessions, you say he is like a wolf. Another fierce man is 
always working his restless tongue at lawsuits, and you will 
compare him to a hound. Does another delight to spring upon 
men from ambushes with hidden guile? He is as a fox. Does 
one man roar and not restrain his rage? He would be reckoned 
as having the heart of a lion. Does another flee and tremble 
in terror where there is no cause of fear? He would be held 
to be as deer. If another is dull and lazy, does he not live the 
life of an ass? One whose aims are inconstant and ever changed 
at his whims, is in no wise different from the birds. If another 
is in a slough of foul and filthy lusts, he is kept down by the 
lusts of an unclean swine. Thus then a man who loses his 
goodness, ceases to be a man, and since he cannot change his 
condition for that of a god, he turns into a beast. 

"The east wind wafted the sails which carried on the wan- 
dering ships of Ithaca's king to the island where dwelt the 
fair goddess Circe, the sun's own daughter. There for her new 
guests she mingled cups bewitched by charms. Her hand, well 
skilled in use of herbs, changed these guests to different forms. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 83 

One bears the face of a boar; another grows like to an African 
lion with fangs and claws; this one becomes as a wolf, and 
when he thinks to weep, he howls; that one is an Indian tiger, 
though he walks all harmless round about the dwelling-place. 
The leader alone, Ulysses, though beset by so many dangers, 
was saved from the goddess's bane by the pity of the winged 
god, Mercury. But the sailors had drunk of her cups, and now 
had turned from food of corn to husks and acorns, food of 
swine. Naught is left the same, speech and form are gone; 
only the mind remains unchanged, to bewail their unnatural 

"How weak was that hand, how powerless those magic 
herbs which could change the limbs but not the heart 1 Within 
lies the strength of men, hidden in deep security. Stronger are 
those dread poisons which can drag a man out of himself, 
which work their way within: they hurt not the body, but on 
the mind their rage inflicts a grievous wound." * 

Then I answered: "I confess that I think it is justly said 
that vicious men keep only the outward bodily form of their 
humanity, and, in the attributes of their souls, are changed to 
beasts. But I would never have allowed them willingly the 
power to rage in the ruin of good men through their fierce and 
wicked intentions." 

"They have not that power," said she, "as I will shew you 
at a convenient time. But if this very power, which you be- 
lieve is allowed to them, were taken from them, the punish- 
ment of vicious men would be to a great extent lightened. For, 
though some may scarcely believe it, evil men must be more 
unhappy when they carry out their ill desires than when they 
cannot fulfil them. For if it is pitiable to have wished bad 
things, it is more pitiable to have had the power to perform 
them, without which power the performance of this pitiable 
will would never have effect. Thus, when you see men with 
the will and the power to commit a crime, and you see them 

*C/. St. Matthew x. 28. 

84 Boethius 

perform it, they must be the victims of a threefold misfortune, 
since each of those three things brings its own misery." 

"Yes/' said I, "I agree; but I do wish from my heart that 
they may speedily be rid of one of these misfortunes, being 
deprived of this power of doing evil." 

"They will be rid of it," she said, "more speedily even than 
you wish perhaps, and sooner than they think they will be rid 
thereof. There is in the short course of life naught which is 
so long coming that an immortal mind can think it has long 
to wait for it. Many a time are their high hopes and great plans 
for evil-doing cut short by a sudden and unlooked-for end. 
This indeed it is that sets a limit to their misery. For if wicked- 
ness makes a man miserable, the longer he is wicked, the more 
miserable must he be; and I should hold them most miserable 
of all, if not even death at last put an end to their evil-doing. 
If we have reached true conclusions concerning the unhappi- 
ness of depravity, the misery, which is said to be eternal, can 
have no limit." 

"That is a strange conclusion and hard to accept. But I see 
that it is suited too well by what we have agreed upon earlier." 

"You are right," she said; "but when one finds it hard to 
agree with a conclusion, one ought in fairness to point out 
some fault in the argument which has preceded, or shew that 
the sequence of statements is not so joined together as to 
effectively lead to the conclusion; otherwise, if the premises 
are granted, it is not just to cavil at the inference. This too, 
which I am about to say, may not seem less strange, but it 
follows equally from what has been taken as fact." 

"What is that?" I asked. 

"That wicked men are happier when they pay the penalty 
for their wickedness than when they receive no penalty at 
the hands of justice. 1 1 am not going to urge what may occur 
to any one, namely, that depraved habits are corrected by 
penalties, and drawn towards the right by fear of punishment, 
and that an example is hereby given to others to avoid all that 

1 Plato, Gorgias, 472 and ff. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 85 

deserves blame. But I think that the wicked who are not pun- 
ished are in another way the more unhappy, without regard 
to the corrective quality of punishment, nor its value as an 

"And what way is there other than these?" 

"We have allowed, have we not," she said, "that the good 
are happy, but the bad are miserable?' 7 


"Then if any good be added to the misery of any evil man, 
is he not happier than the man whose miserable state is purely 
and simply miserable without any good at all mingled there- 

"I suppose so." 

"What if some further evil beyond those by which a man, 
who lacked all good things, were made miserable, were added 
to his miseries? Should not he be reckoned far more unhappy 
than the man whose misfortune was lightened by a share in 
some good?" 

"Of course it is so." 

"Therefore," she said, "the wicked when punished have 
something good added to their lot, to wit, their punishment, 
which is good by reason of its quality of justice; and they 
also, when unpunished, have something of further evil, their 
very impunity, which you have allowed to be an evil, by rea- 
son of its injustice." 

"I cannot deny that," said I. 

"Then the wicked are far more unhappy when they are 
unjustly unpunished, than when they are justly punished. It 
is plain that it is just that the wicked should be punished, and 
unfair that they should escape punishment." 

"No one will gainsay you." 

"But no one will deny this either, that all which is just is 
good; and on the other part, all that is unjust is evil." 

Then I said : "The arguments which we have accepted bring 
us to that conclusion. But tell me, do you leave no punishment 
of the soul to follow after the death of the body?" 

"Yes," she answered, "heavy punishments, of which some, 

86 Boethius 

I think, are effected by bitter penalties, others by a cleansing 
mercy. 1 But it is not my intention to discuss these now. My 
object has been to bring you to know that the power of evil 
men, which seems to you so unworthy, is in truth nothing; 
and that you may see that those wicked men, of whose im- 
punity you complained, do never miss the reward of their 
ill-doing; and that you may learn that their passion, which 
you prayed might soon be cut short, is not long-enduring, 
and that the longer it lasts, the more unhappiness it brings, 
and that it would be most unhappy if it endured for ever. 
Further, I have tried to shew you that the wicked are more to 
be pitied if they escape with unjust impunity, than if they 
are punished by just retribution. And it follows upon this 
fact that they will be undergoing heavier penalties when they 
are thought to be unpunished." 

"When I hear your arguments, I feel sure that they are 
true as possible. But if I turn to human opinions, I ask what 
man would not think them not only incredible, but even un- 

"Yes," she said, "for men cannot raise to the transparent 
light of truth their eyes which have been accustomed to dark- 
ness. They are like those birds whose sight is clear at night, 
but blinded by daylight. So long as they look not upon the 
true course of nature, but upon their own feelings, they think 
that the freedom of passion and the impunity of crime are 
happy things. Think upon the sacred ordinances of eternal 
law. If your mind is fashioned after better things, there is no 
need of a judge to award a prize; you have added yourself to 
the number of the more excellent. If your mind sinks to worse 
things, seek no avenger from without: you have thrust your- 
self downward to lower things. It is as though you were 

1 It must not be supposed from the words "cleansing mercy" (purga- 
toria dementia) that Boethius held the same views as were held by 
the Church later concerning purgatory, and as are now taught by the 
Roman Catholic Church. It is true that St. Augustine had in 407 A.D. 
hinted at the existence of such a state, but it was not dogmatically 
inculcated till 604, in the Papacy of Gregory the Great. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 87 

looking at the squalid earth and the heavens in turn; then 
take away all that is about you; and by the power of sight, 
you will seem to be in the midst now of mud, now of stars. 
But mankind looks not to such things. What then shall we 
do? Shall we join ourselves to those whom we have shewn to 
be as beasts? If a man lost utterly his sight, and even forgot 
that he had ever seen, so that he thought he lacked naught 
of human perfection, should we think that such a blind one 
can see as we do? Most people would not even allow another 
point, which rests no less firmly upon strong reasons, namely, 
that those who do an injury are more unhappy than those 
who suffer one." * 

"I would hear those strong reasons," I said. 

"You do not deny that every wicked man deserves punish- 


"It is plain for many reasons that the wicked are unhappy?" 


"Then you doubt not that those who are worthy of punish- 
ment are miserable?" 

"No, I agree." 

"If then you were sitting as a judge, upon which would you 
consider punishment should fall the man who did the injury, 
or the man who suffered it?" 

"I have no hesitation in saying that I would make amends 
to the sufferer at the expense of the doer of the injustice." 

"Then the doer of the injustice would seem to you more 
miserable than the sufferer?" 

"That follows." 

"Then from this," said she, "and other causes which rest 
upon the same foundation, it is plain that, since baseness 
makes men more miserable by its own nature, the misery is 
brought not to the sufferer of an injustice, but to the doer 
thereof. But the speakers in law-courts take the opposite 
course: they try to excite the pity of the judges for those who 

1 Plato, Gorgias, 474 and ff. 

88 Boethius 

have suffered any heavy or bitter wrong; but more justly 
their pity would be due to those who have committed the 
wrong. These guilty men ought to be brought, by accusers 
kindly rather than angry, to justice, as patients to a doctor, 
that their disease of crime may be checked by punishment. 
Under such an arrangement the occupation of advocates for 
defence would either come to a complete standstill, or if it 
seemed more to the advantage of mankind, it might turn to 
the work of prosecution. And if the wicked too themselves 
might by some device look on virtue left behind them, and 
if they could see that they would lay aside the squalor of vice 
by the pain of punishment, and that they would gain the 
compensation of achieving virtue again, they would no longer 
hold it punishment, but would refuse the aid of advocates for 
their defence, and would intrust themselves unreservedly to 
their accusers and their judges. In this way there would be no 
place left for hatred among wise men. For who but the most 
foolish would hate good men? And there is no cause to hate 
bad men. Vice is as a disease of the mind, just as feebleness 
shews ill-health in the body. As, then, we should never think 
that those, who are sick in the body, deserve hatred, so are 
those, whose minds are oppressed by a fiercer disease than 
feebleness, namely wickedness, much more worthy of pity than 
of persecution. 

"To what good end do men their passions raise, even to 
drag from fate their deaths by their own hands? If ye seek 
death, she is surely nigh of her own will; and her winged 
horses she will not delay. Serpents and lions, bears, tigers and 
boars, all seek your lives with their fangs, yet do ye seek 
them with swords? Is it because your manners are so wide 
in variance that men raise up unjust battles and savage wars, 
and seek to perish by each other's darts? Such is no just rea- 
son for this cruelty. Wouldst thou apportion merit to merit 
fitly? Then love good men as is their due, and for the evil 
shew your pity." 

The Consolation of Philosophy 89 

(Boethius still feels dissatisfied with the world's government.) 

Then said I, "I see how happiness and misery lie insep- 
arably in the deserts of good and bad men. But I am sure that 
there is some good and some bad in the general fortune of men. 
For no wise man even would wish to be exiled, impoverished, 
and disgraced rather than full of wealth, power, veneration, 
and strength, and flourishing securely in his own city. The 
operation of wisdom is shewn in this way more nobly and 
clearly, when the happiness of rulers is in a manner trans- 
mitted to the people who come into contact with their rule; 
and especially when prisons, bonds, and other penalties of 
the law become the lot of the evil citizens for whom they 
were designed. I am struck with great wonder why these dues 
are interchanged ; why punishments for crimes fall upon the 
good, while the bad citizens seize the rewards of virtue; and 
I long to learn from you what reason can be put forward for 
such unjust confusion. I should wonder less if I could believe 
that everything was the confusion of accident and chance. 
But now the thought of God's guidance increases my amaze- 
ment; He often grants happiness to good men and bitterness 
to the bad, and then, on the other hand, sends hardships to 
the good and grants the desires of the wicked. Can we lay our 
hands on any cause? If not, what can make this state different 
in any way from accidental chance?" 

"It is no wonder," she answered, "if one who knows not the 
order and reasons of nature, should think it is all at random 
and confused. But doubt not, though you know not the cause 
of such a great matter of the world's government, doubt not, 
I say, that all is rightly done, because a good Governor rules 
the universe. 

"If any man knows not that the star Arcturus 1 has his 
course nearest the topmost pole, how shall he not be amazed 

1 Arcturus, the star in Bootes nearest to the Bear, used to be thought 
the nearest star to our pole. Bootes was also known as the Arctophylax, 
or Rearward, and so also as the driver of the Wain. 

QO Boethius 

that Bootes so slowly takes his wain and is so late to dip his 
brightness in the ocean, and yet so swiftly turns to rise again? 
The law of heaven on high will but bewilder him. When the 
full moon grows dim to its horns, darkened by the shadow of 
dull night, when Phoebe thus lays bare all the varying bands 
of the stars, which she had hidden by the power of her shin- 
ing face: then are the nations stirred by the errors of the 
vulgar, and beat without ceasing brazen cymbals. 1 No man 
is surprised when the blasts of the wind beat a shore with 
roaring waves, nor when a solid mass of frozen snow is melted 
by the warmth of Phcebus's rays; for herein the causes are 
ready at hand to be understood. But in those other matters the 
causes are hidden, and so do trouble all men's hearts, for time 
does not grant them to advance with experience in such things 
as seldom recur: the common herd is ever amazed at all that 
is extraordinary. But let the cloudy errors of ignorance de- 
part, and straightway these shall seem no longer marvellous." 

"That is true," I said; "but it is your kind office to unravel 
the causes of hidden matters, and explain reasons now veiled 
in darkness; wherefore I beg of you, put forth your decree 
and expound all to me, since this wonder most deeply stirs 
my mind." 

Then said she, smiling, "Your question calls me to the 
greatest of all these matters, and a full answer thereto is well- 
nigh impossible. For this is its kind: if one doubt be cut away, 
innumerable others arise, as the Hydra's heads; and there can 
be no limit unless a man restrains them by the most quick 
fire of the mind. For herein lie the questions of the directness 
of Providence, the course of Fate, chances which cannot be 
foreseen, knowledge, divine predestination, and freedom of 
judgment. You can judge for yourself the weight of these 
questions. But since it is a part of your treatment to know 
some of these, I will attempt to make some advantage there- 

x The old superstition was that an eclipse meant the withdrawal of 
the moon, and that by a noise of beaten brass, etc., she could be saved. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 91 

from, though we are penned in by our narrow space of time. 
But if you enjoy the delights of song, you must wait a while 
for that pleasure, while I weave together for you the chain 
of reasons." 

"As you will," said I. 

Then, as though beginning afresh, she spake thus: 

(Philosophy discusses Providence and Fate.) 

"The engendering of all things, the whole advance of all 
changing natures, and every motion and progress in the world, 
draw their causes, their order, and their forms from the allot- 
ment of the unchanging mind of God, which lays manifold 
restrictions on all action from the calm fortress of its own 
directness. Such restrictions are called Providence when they 
can be seen to lie in the very simplicity of divine understand- 
ing; but they were called Fate in old times when they were 
viewed with reference to the objects which they moved or 
arranged. It will easily be understood that these two are very 
different if the mind examines the force of each. For Provi- 
dence is the very divine reason which arranges all things, and 
rests with the supreme disposer of all; while Fate is that 
ordering which is a part of all changeable things, and by means 
of which Providence binds all things together in their own 
order. Providence embraces all things equally, however dif- 
ferent they may be, even however infinite: when they are 
assigned to their own places, forms, and times, Fate sets them 
in an orderly motion; so that this development of the temporal 
order, unified in the intelligence of the mind of God, is Provi- 
dence. The working of this unified development in time is 
called Fate. These are different, but the one hangs upon the 
other. For this order, which is ruled by Fate, emanates from 
the directness of Providence. Just as when a craftsman per- 
ceived in his mind the form of the object he would make, he 
sets his working power in motion, and brings through the 
order of time that which he had seen directly and ready pres- 
ent to his mind. So by Providence does God dispose all that 
is to be done, each thing by itself and unchangeably; while 

92 Boethius 

these same things which Providence has arranged are worked 
out by Fate in many ways and in time. Whether, therefore, 
Fate works by the aid of the divine spirits which serve Provi- 
dence, or whether it works by the aid of the soul, or of all 
nature, or the motions of the stars in heaven, or the powers of 
angels, or the manifold skill of other spirits, whether the course 
of Fate is bound together by any or all of these, one thing is 
certain, namely that Providence is the one unchangeable direct 
power which gives form to all things which are to come to 
pass, while Fate is the changing bond, the temporal order of 
those things which are arranged to come to pass by the direct 
disposition of God. Wherefore everything which is subject to 
Fate is also subject to Providence, to which Fate is itself sub- 
ject. But there are things which, though beneath Providence, 
are above the course of Fate. Those things are they which 
are immovably set nearest the primary divinity, and are there 
beyond the course of the movement of Fate. As in the case 
of spheres moving round the same axis, that which is nearest 
the centre approaches most nearly the simple motion of the 
centre, and is itself, as it were, an axis around which turn those 
which are set outside it. That sphere which is outside all turns 
through a greater circuit, and fulfils a longer course in pro- 
portion as it is farther from the central axis; and if it be joined 
or connect itself with that centre, it is drawn into the direct 
motion thereof, and no longer strays or strives to turn away. 
In like manner, that which goes farther from the primary in- 
telligence, is bound the more by the ties of Fate, and the 
nearer it approaches the axis of all, the more free it is from 
Fate. But that which clings without movement to the firm 
intellect above, surpasses altogether the bond of Fate. As, 
therefore, reasoning is to understanding; as that which be- 
comes is to that which is; as time is to eternity; as the circum- 
ference is to the centre: so is the changing course of Fate to 
the immovable directness of Providence. That course of Fate 
moves the heavens and the stars, moderates the first principles 
in their turns, and alters their forms by balanced interchang- 
ings. The same course renews all things that are born and 

The Consolation of Philosophy 93 

wither away by like advances of offspring and seed. It con- 
strains, too, the actions and fortunes of men by an unbreakable 
chain of causes: and these causes must be unchangeable, as 
they proceed from the beginnings of an unchanging Provi- 
dence. Thus is the world governed for the best if a directness, 
which rests in the intelligence of God, puts forth an order of 
causes which may not swerve. This order restrains by its own 
unchangeableness changeable things, which might otherwise 
run hither and thither at random. Wherefore in disposing the 
universe this limitation directs all for good, though to you 
who are not strong enough to comprehend the whole order, all 
seems confusion and disorder. Naught is there that comes to 
pass for the sake of evil, or due to wicked men, of whom it 
has been abundantly shewn that they seek the good, but mis- 
leading error turns them from the right course; for never does 
the true order, which comes forth from the centre of the high- 
est good, turn any man aside from the right beginning. 

"But you will ask, What more unjust confusion could 
exist than that good men should sometimes enjoy prosperity, 
sometimes suffer adversity, and that the bad too should some- 
times receive what they desire, sometimes what they hate?' 
Are then men possessed of such infallible minds that they, 
whom they consider honest or dishonest, must necessarily be 
what they are held to be? No, in these matters human judg- 
ment is at variance with itself, and those who are held by some 
to be worthy of reward, are by others held worthy of punish- 
ment. But let us grant that a man could discern between good 
and bad characters. Can he therefore know the inmost feelings 
of the soul, as a doctor can learn a body's temperature? For it 
is no less a wonder to the ignorant why sweet things suit one 
sound body, while bitter things suit another; or why some 
sick people are aided by gentle draughts, others by sharp and 
bitter ones. But a doctor does not wonder at such things, for 
he knows the ways and constitutions of health and sickness. 
And what is the health of the soul but virtue? And what the 
sickness, but vice? And who is the preserver of the good and 
banisher of the evil, who but God, the guardian and healer of 

94 Boethius 

minds? God looks forth from the high watch-tower of His 
Providence, He sees what suits each man, and applies to him 
that which suits him. Hence then comes that conspicuous 
cause of wonder in the order of Fate, when a wise man does 
that which amazes the ignorant. For, to glance at the depth 
of God's works with so few words as human reason is capable 
of comprehending, I say that what you think to be most fair 
and most conducive to justice's preservation, that appears 
different to an all-seeing Providence. Has not our fellow- 
philosopher Lucan told us how 'the conquering cause did 
please the gods, but the conquered, Cato?' 1 What then sur- 
prises you when done on this earth, is the true-guided order 
of things; it is your opinion which is perverted and confused. 
But if there is any one whose life is so good that divine and 
human estimates of him agree, yet he must be uncertain in 
the strength of his mind; if any adversity befall him, it may 
always be that he will cease to preserve his innocence, by 
which he found that he could not preserve his good fortune. 
Thus then a wise dispensation spares a man who might be 
made worse by adversity, lest he should suffer when it is not 
good for him to be oppressed. Another may be perfected in 
all virtues, wholly conscientious, and very near to God : Provi- 
dence holds that it is not right such an one should receive 
any adversity, so that it allows him to be troubled not even 
by bodily diseases. As a better man 2 than I has said, The 
powers of virtues build up the body of a good man/ It often 
happens that the duty of a supreme authority is assigned to 
good men for the purpose of pruning the insolent growth of 
wickedness. To some, Providence grants a mingled store of 

1 Lucan, Pharsalia, i. 128. This famous line refers to the final triumph 
of Caesar at Thapsus, B.C. 46, when Cato considered that the Republican 
cause was finally doomed and he committed suicide at Utica rather than 
survive it. 

*The author is supposed to be Hermes Trismegistus, who wrote in 
the third century after Christ. The word "powers" was used by many 
Neo-Platonic philosophers for those beings in the scale of nature, with 
which they filled the chasm between God and man. But Boethius does 
not seem to intend the word to have that definite meaning here. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 95 

good and bad, according to the nature of their minds. Some 
she treats bitterly, lest they grow too exuberant with long- 
continued good fortune; others she allows to be harassed by 
hardships that the virtues of their minds should be strength- 
ened by the habit and exercise of patience. Some have too 
great a fear of sufferings which they can bear; others have 
too great contempt for those which they cannot bear: these 
she leads on by troubles to make trial of themselves. Some 
have brought a name to be honoured for all time at the price 
of a glorious death. Some by shewing themselves undefeated 
by punishment, have left a proof to others that virtue may 
be invincible by evil. What doubt can there be of how rightly 
such things are disposed, and that they are for the good of 
those whom we see them befall? The other point too arises 
from like causes, that sometimes sorrows, sometimes the ful- 
filment of their desires, falls to the wicked. As concerns the 
sorrows, no one is surprised, because all agree that they de- 
serve ill. Their punishments serve both to deter others from 
crime by fear, and also to amend the lives of those who un- 
dergo them; their happiness, on the other hand, serves as a 
proof to good men of how they should regard good fortune 
of this nature, which they see often attends upon the dis- 
honest. And another thing seems to me to be well arranged: 
the nature of a man may be so headstrong and rough that 
lack of wealth may stir him to crime more readily than restrain 
him; for the disease of such an one Providence prescribes a 
remedy of stores of patrimony: he may see that his con- 
science is befouled by sin, he may take account with himself 
of his fortune, and will perhaps fear lest the loss of this prop- 
erty, of which he enjoys the use, may bring unhappiness. 
Wherefore he will change his ways, and leave off from ill- 
doing so long as he fears the loss of his fortune. Again, good 
fortune, unworthily improved, has flung some into ruin. To 
some the right of punishing is committed that they may use 
it for the exercise and trial of the good, and the punishment 
of evil men. And just as there is no league between good and 
bad men, so also the bad cannot either agree among them- 

96 Boethius 

selves: i;;:y, with their vices tearing their own consciences 
asunder, they cannot agree with themselves, and do often 
perform acts which, when done, they perceive that they should 
not have done. Wherefore high Providence has thus often 
shewn her strange wonder, namely, that bad men should make 
other bad men good. For some find themselves suffering in- 
justice at the hands of evil men, and, burning with hatred 
of those who have injured them, they have returned to culti- 
vate the fruits of virtue, because their aim is to be unlike those 
whom they hate. To divine power, and to that alone, are evil 
things good, when it uses them suitably so as to draw good 
results therefrom. For a definite order embraces all things, so 
that even when some subject leaves the true place assigned 
to it in the order, it returns to an order, though another, it 
may be, lest aught in the realm of Providence be left to random 
chance. But 'hard is it for me to set forth all these matters as 
a god/ * nor is it right for a man to try to comprehend with 
his mind all the means of divine working, or to explain them 
in words. Let it be enough that we have seen that God, the 
Creator of all nature, directs and disposes all things for good. 
And while He urges all, that He has made manifest, to keep 
His own likeness, He drives out by the course of Fate all evil 
from the bounds of His state. Wherefore if you look to the 
disposition of Providence, you will reckon naught as bad of 
all the evils which are held to abound upon earth. 

"But I see that now you are weighed down by the burden 
of the question, and wearied by the length of our reasoning, 
and waiting for the gentleness of song. Take then your draught, 
be refreshed thereby and advance further the stronger. 

"If thou wouldst diligently behold with unsullied mind the 
laws of the God of thunder upon high, look to the highest point 
of heaven above. There, by a fair and equal compact, do the 
stars keep their ancient peace. The sun is hurried on by its 
whirl of fire, but impedes not the moon's cool orb. The Bear 

1 Homer, Iliad, xii. 176. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 97 

turns its rushing course around the highest pole of the uni- 
verse, and dips not in the western depths, and though it sees 
the other constellations sink, it never seeks to quench its 
flames in the ocean stream. In just divisions of time does the 
evening star foretell the coming of the late shadows, and, as 
Lucifer, brings back again the warming light of day. Thus 
does the interchanging bond of love bring round their never- 
failing courses; and strife is for ever an exile from the starry 
realms. This unity rules by fair limits the elements, so that 
wet yields to dry, its opposite, and it faithfully joins cold to 
heat. Floating fire rises up on high, and matter by its weight 
sinks down. From these same causes in warm spring the 
flowering season breathes its scents ; then the hot summer dries 
the grain; then with its burden of fruits comes autumn again, 
and winter's falling rain gives moisture. This mingling of sea- 
sons nourishes and brings forth all on earth that has the breath 
of life; and again snatches them away and hides them, whelm- 
ing in death all that has arisen. Meanwhile the Creator sits 
on high, rules all and guides, King and Lord, fount and source 
of all, Law itself and wise judge of justice. He restrains all that 
stirs nature to motion, holds it back, and makes firm all that 
would stray. If He were not to recall them to their true paths, 
and set them again upon the circles of their courses, they 
would be torn from their source and so would perish. This 
is the common bond of love; all seek thus to be restrained by 
the limit of the good. In no other manner can they endure if 
this bond of love be not turned round again, and if the causes, 
which He has set, return not again. 

(Philosophy shews that all fortune is good.) 

"Do you see now," she continued, "what follows upon all 
that we have said?" 

"What is it? "I asked. 

"That all fortune is plainly good," she answered. 

"How can that be?" said I. 

"Consider this," she said: "all fortune, whether pleasant 
or difficult, is due to this cause; it is for the sake of rewarding 

98 Boethius 

the good or exercising their virtue, and of punishing and cor- 
recting bad men: therefore it is plain that all this fortune 
which is allowed to be just or expedient, must be good." 

"Yes," I said, "that is a true argument, and when I think 
of the Providence or Fate about which you have taught me, 
the conclusion rests upon strong foundations. But if it please 
you, let us count it among those conclusions which you a little 
while ago set down as inconceivable." 

"Why?" she asked. 

"Because it is a commonplace saying among men indeed 
an especially frequent one that some people have bad for- 

"Would you then have us approach more nearly the com- 
mon conversation of men, lest we should seem to withdraw 
too far from human ways?" 

"If you will," I said. 

"Do you not think that that, which is advantageous, is 


"And that fortune, which exercises or corrects, is ad- 

"I agree," said I. 

"Then it is good, is it not?" 

"It must be so." 

"This is the fortune of those who are either firmly set in 
virtue and struggling against their difficulties, or of those who 
would leave their vices and take the path of virtue?" 

"That is true," I said. 

"But what of that pleasant fortune which is granted as a 
reward to good men? Do most people perceive that it is bad? 
No; but, as is true, they esteem it the best. And what of the 
last kind of fortune, which is hard and which restrains bad 
men by just punishment? Is that commonly held to be good?" 

"No," said I, "it is held to be the most miserable of all that 
can be imagined." 

"Beware lest in following the common conception, we come 
to some truly inconceivable conclusion." 

The Consolation of Philosophy 99 

"What do you mean?" 

"From what we have allowed," she said, "it results that the 
fortune of those who are in possession of virtue, or are gaining 
it, or advancing therein, is entirely good, whatever it be, while 
for those who remain in wickedness, their fortune is the worst." 

"That is true, but who would dare confess it?" 

"For this reason a wise man should never complain, when- 
ever he is brought into strife with fortune; just as a brave 
man cannot properly be disgusted whenever the noise of battle 
is heard, since for both of them their very difficulty is their 
opportunity, for the brave man of increasing his glory, for 
the wise man of confirming and strengthening his wisdom. 
From this is virtue itself so named, 1 because it is so supported 
by its strength that it is not overcome by adversity. And you 
who were set in the advance of virtue have not come to this 
pass of being dissipated by delights, or enervated by pleasure; 
but you fight too bitterly against all fortune. Keep the middle 
path of strength and virtue, lest you be overwhelmed by mis- 
fortune or corrupted by pleasant fortune. All that falls short 
or goes too far ahead, has contempt for happiness, and gains 
not the reward for labour done. It rests in your own hands 
what shall be the nature of the fortune which you choose to 
form for yourself. For all fortune which seems difficult, either 
exercises virtue, or corrects or punishes vice. 

"The avenging son of Atreus strove for full ten years before 
he expiated in the fall of Phrygian Troy the wrong done to 
his brother's marriage. The same Agamemnon must needs 
throw off his father's nature, and himself, an unwilling priest, 
thrust his knife into his unhappy daughter's throat, and buy 
the winds at the cost of blood, when he sought to fill the sails 
of the fleet of Greece. The King of Ithaca wept sore for his 
lost comrades whom the savage Polyphemus swallowed into 
his huge maw as he lay in his vast cave; but, when mad for 
his blinded eye, he paid back with rejoicings for the sad tears 

1 The Latin word "virtus" means by its derivation, manly strength. 

ioo Boethius 

he had drawn. Hercules became famous through hard labours. 
He tamed the haughty Centaurs, and from the fierce lion of 
Nemea took his spoil. With his sure arrows he smote the birds 
of Stymphalus; and from the watchful dragon took the apples 
of the Hesperides, filling his hand with their precious gold; 
and Cerberus he dragged along with threefold chain. The story 
tells how he conquered the fierce Diomede and set before his 
savage mares their master as their food. The Hydra's poison 
perished in his fire. He took the horn and so disgraced the 
brow of the river Achelous, who hid below his bank his head 
ashamed. On the sands of Libya he laid Antaeus low; Cacus 
he slew to sate Evander's wrath. The bristling boar of Ery- 
manthus flecked with his own foam the shoulders which were 
to bear the height of heaven; for in his last labour he bore 
with unbending neck the heavens, and so won again his place 
in heaven, the reward of his last work. 

"Go forth then bravely whither leads the lofty path of high 
example. Why do ye sluggards turn your backs? When the 
earth is overcome, the stars are yours." 


HERE she made an end and was for turning the course of her 
speaking to the handling and explaining of other subjects. 
Then said I: "Your encouragement is right and most worthy 
in truth of your name and weight. But I am learning by experi- 
ence what you just now said of Providence; that the question 
is bound up in others. I would ask you whether you think 
that Chance exists at all, and what you think it is?" 

Then she answered: "I am eager to fulfil my promised debt, 
and to shew you the path by which you may seek your home. 
But these things, though all-expedient for knowledge, are 
none the less rather apart from our path, and we must be 
careful lest you become wearied by our turnings aside, and so 
be not strong enough to complete the straight journey." 

"Have no fear at all thereof," said I. "It will be restful to 
know these things in which I have so great a pleasure; and 
when every view of your reasoning has stood firm with un- 
shaken credit, so let there be no doubt of what shall follow." 

"I will do your pleasure," she made answer, and thus she 
began to speak: 

{Philosophy discusses "chance") 

"If chance is defined as an outcome of random influence, 
produced by no sequence of causes, I am sure that there is no 
such thing as chance, and I consider that it is but an empty 
word, beyond shewing the meaning of the matter which we 
have in hand. For what place can be left for anything hap- 
pening at random, so long as God controls everything in 
order? It is a true saying that nothing can come out of nothing. 
None of the old philosophers has denied that, though they did 
not apply it to the effective principle, but to the matter op- 
erated upon that is to say, to nature; and this was the 
foundation upon which they built all their reasoning. If any- 


iO2 Boethius 

thing arises from no causes, it will appear to have risen out 
of nothing. But if this is impossible, then chance also cannot 
be anything of that sort, which is stated in the definition which 
we mentioned." 

"Then is there nothing which can be justly called chance, 
nor anything 'by chance'?" I asked. "Or is there anything 
which common people know not, but which those words do 

"My philosopher, Aristotle, defined it in his Physics* shortly 
and well-nigh truly." 

"How?" I asked. 

"Whenever anything is done with one intention, but some- 
thing else, other than was intended, results from certain causes, 
that is called chance: as, for instance, if a man digs the ground 
for the sake of cultivating it, and finds a heap of buried gold. 
Such a thing is believed to have happened by chance, but it 
does not come from nothing, for it has its own causes, whose 
unforeseen and unexpected coincidence seem to have brought 
about a chance. For if the cultivator did not dig the ground, 
if the owner had not buried his money, the gold would not 
have been found. These are the causes of the chance piece of 
good fortune, which comes about from the causes which meet 
it, and move along with it, not from the intention of the actor. 
For neither the burier nor the tiller intended that the gold 
should be found; but, as I said, it was a coincidence, and it 
happened that the one dug up what the other buried. We may 
therefore define chance as an unexpected result from the 
coincidence of certain causes in matters where there was an- 
other purpose. The order of the universe, advancing with its 
inevitable sequences, brings about this coincidence of causes. 
This order itself emanates from its source, which is Providence, 
and disposes all things in their proper time and place. 

"In the land where the Parthian, as he turns in flight, shoots 
his arrows into the pursuer's breast, from the rocks of the 

1 Aristotle, Physics, ii. 3. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 103 

crag of Achsemenia, the Tigris and Euphrates flow from out 
one source, but quickly with divided streams are separate. If 
they should come together and again be joined in a single 
course, all, that the two streams bear along, would flow in 
one together. Boats would meet boats, and trees meet trees 
torn up by the currents, and the mingled waters would to- 
gether entwine their streams by chance; but their sloping beds 
restrain these chances vague, and the downward order of the 
falling torrent guides their courses. Thus does chance, which 
seems to rush onward without rein, bear the bit, and take its 
way by rule." 

(Philosophy asserts the existence of free will.) 
"I have listened to you," I said, "and agree that it is as you 
say. But in this close sequence of causes, is there any freedom 
for our judgment, or does this chain of fate bind the very feel- 
ings of our minds too?" 

"There is free will," she answered. "Nor could there be 
any reasoning nature without freedom of judgment. For any 
being that can use its reason by nature, has a power of judg- 
ment by which it can without further aid decide each point, 
and so distinguish between objects to be desired and objects 
to be shunned. Each therefore seeks what it deems desirable, 
and flies from what it considers should be shunned. Wherefore 
all who have reason have also freedom of desiring and refusing 
in themselves. But I do not lay down that this is equal in all 
beings. Heavenly and divine beings have with them a judg- 
ment of great insight, an imperturbable will, and a power 
which can effect their desires. But human spirits must be more 
free when they keep themselves safe in the contemplation of 
the mind of God; but less free when they sink into bodies, 
and less still when they are bound by their earthly members. 
The last stage is mere slavery, when the spirit is given over to 
vices and has fallen away from the possession of its reason. 
For when the mind turns its eyes from the light of truth on 
high to lower darkness, soon they are dimmed by the clouds 
of ignorance, and become turbid through ruinous passions; 

104 Boethius 

by yielding to these passions and consenting to them, men 
increase the slavery which they have brought upon themselves, 
and their true liberty is lost in captivity. But God, looking 
upon all out of the infinite, perceives the views of Providence, 
and disposes each as its destiny has already fated for it ac- 
cording to its merits: 'He looketh over all and heareth all.' 1 

"Homer with his honeyed lips sang of the bright sun's clear 
light; yet the sun cannot burst with his feeble rays the bowels 
of the earth or the depths of the sea. Not so with the Creator 
of this great sphere. No masses of earth can block His vision 
as He looks over all. Night's cloudy darkness cannot resist 
Him. With one glance of His intelligence He sees all that has 
been, that is, and that is to come. He alone can see all things, 
so truly He may be called the Sun." a 

Then said I, "Again am I plunged in yet more doubt and 

(Boethius cannot reconcile God's foreknowledge with man's free 


"What are they," she asked, "though I have already my 
idea of what your trouble consists?" 

"There seems to me," I said, "to be such incompatibility 
between the existence of God's universal foreknowledge and 
that of any freedom of judgment. For if God foresees all 
things and cannot in anything be mistaken, that, which His 
Providence sees will happen, must result. Wherefore if it 
knows beforehand not only men's deeds but even their designs 
and wishes, there will be no freedom of judgment. For there 
can neither be any deed done, nor wish formed, except such 
as the infallible Providence of God has foreseen. For if matters 
could ever so be turned that they resulted otherwise than was 

*A phrase from Homer (Iliad, iii. 277, and Odyssey, xi. 109), where 
it is said of the sun. 

a This sentence, besides referring to the application of Homer's words 
used above, contains also a play on words in the Latin, which can only 
be clumsily reproduced in English by some such words as "The sole 
power which can see all is justly to be called the solar." 

The Consolation of Philosophy 105 

foreseen of Providence, this foreknowledge would cease to be 
sure. But, rather than knowledge, it is opinion which is un- 
certain; and that, I deem, is not applicable to God. And, 
further, I cannot approve of an argument by which some men 
think that they can cut this knot; for they say that a result 
does not come to pass for the reason that Providence has fore- 
seen it, but the opposite rather, namely, that because it is 
about to come to pass, therefore it cannot be hidden from 
God's Providence. In that way it seems to me that the argu- 
ment must resolve itself into an argument on the other side. 
For in that case it is not necessary that that should happen 
which is foreseen, but that that which is about to happen 
should be foreseen; as though, indeed, our doubt was whether 
God's foreknowledge is the certain cause of future events, or 
the certainty of future events is the cause of Providence. But 
let our aim be to prove that, whatever be the shape which 
this series of causes takes, the fulfilment of God's foreknowl- 
edge is necessary, even if this knowledge may not seem to 
induce the necessity for the occurrence of future events. For 
instance, if a man sits down, it must be that the opinion, which 
conjectures that he is sitting, is true; but conversely, if the 
opinion concerning the man is true because he is sitting, he 
must be sitting down. There is therefore necessity in both 
cases: the man must be sitting, and the opinion must be true. 
But he does not sit because the opinion is true, but rather 
the opinion is true because his sitting down has preceded it. 
Thus, though the cause of the truth of the opinion proceeds 
from the other fact, yet there is a common necessity on both 
parts. In like manner we must reason of Providence and future 
events. For even though they are foreseen because they are 
about to happen, yet they do not happen because they are 
foreseen. None the less it is necessary that either what is about 
to happen should be foreseen of God, or that what has been 
foreseen should happen; and this alone is enough to destroy 
all free will. 

"Yet how absurd it is that we should say that the result of 

io6 Boethius 

temporal affairs is the cause of eternal foreknowledge! And 
to think that God foresees future events because they are 
about to happen, is nothing else than to hold events of past 
time to be the cause of that highest Providence. Besides, just 
as, when I know a present fact, that fact must be so; so also 
when I know of something that will happen, that must come 
to pass. Thus it follows that the fulfilment of a foreknown 
event must be inevitable. 

"Lastly, if any one believes that any matter is otherwise 
than the fact is, he not only has not knowledge, but his opinion 
is false also, and that is very far from the truth of knowledge. 
Wherefore, if any future event is such that its fulfilment is 
not sure or necessary, how can it possibly be known before- 
hand that it will occur? For just as absolute knowledge has 
no taint of falsity, so also that which is conceived by knowl- 
edge cannot be otherwise than as it is conceived. That is the 
reason why knowledge cannot lie, because each matter must 
be just as knowledge knows that it is. What then? How can 
God know beforehand these uncertain future events? For if 
He thinks inevitable the fulfilment of such things as may pos- 
sibly not result, He is wrong; and that we may not believe, 
nor even utter, rightly. But if He perceives that they will 
result as they are in such a manner that He only knows that 
they may or may not occur, equally, how is this foreknowl- 
edge, this which knows nothing for sure, nothing absolutely? 
How is such a foreknowledge different from the absurd 
prophecy which Horace puts in the mouth of Tiresias: What- 
ever I shall say, will either come to pass, or it will not'? * How, 
too, would God's Providence be better than man's opinion, 
if, as men do, He only sees to be uncertain such things as have 
an uncertain result? But if there can be no uncertainty with 
God, the most sure source of all things, then the fulfilment of 
all that He has surely foreknown, is certain. Thus we are led 
to see that there is no freedom for the intentions or actions of 
men; for the mind of God, foreseeing all things without error 

1 Horace, Satires, 11. v. 59. 

The Consolation oj Philosophy 107 

or deception, binds all together and controls their results 
And when we have once allowed this, it is plain how complete 
is the fall of all human actions in consequence. In vain are 
rewards or punishments set before good or bad, for there is 
no free or voluntary action of the mind to deserve them ; and 
what we just now determined was most fair, will prove to be 
most unfair of all, namely to punish the dishonest or reward 
the honest, since their own will does not put them in the way of 
honesty or dishonesty, but the unfailing necessity of develop- 
ment constrains them. Wherefore neither virtues nor vices are 
anything, but there is rather an indiscriminate confusion of 
all deserts. And nothing could be more vicious than this; since 
the whole order of all comes from Providence, and nothing is 
left to human intention, it follows that our crimes, as well as 
our good deeds, must all be held due to the author of all good. 
Hence it is unreasonable to hope for or pray against aught. 
For what could any man hope for or pray against, if an un- 
deviating chain links together all that we can desire? Thus 
will the only understanding between God and man, the right 
of prayer, be taken away. We suppose that at the price of our 
deservedly humbling ourselves before Him we may win a 
right to the inestimable reward of His divine grace: this is the 
only manner in which men can seem to deal with God, so to 
speak, and by virtue of prayer to join ourselves to that inac- 
cessible light, before it is granted to us; but if we allow the 
inevitability of the future, and believe that we have no power, 
what means shall we have to join ourselves to the Lord of all, 
or how can we cling to Him? WTierefore, as you sang but a 
little while ago, 1 the human race must be cut off from its source 
and ever fall away. 

"What cause of discord is it breaks the bonds of agreement 
here? What heavenly power has set such strife between two 
truths? Thus, though apart each brings no doubt, yet can 
they not be linked together. Comes there no discord between 

1 Supra, Book iv. Met. vi. p. 135. 

io8 Boethius 

these truths? Stand they for ever sure by one another? Yes, 
'tis the mind, o'erwhelmed by the body's blindness, which 
cannot see by the light of that dimmed brightness the finest 
threads that bind the truth. But wherefore burns the spirit 
with so strong desire to learn the hidden signs of truth? Knows 
it the very object of its careful search? Then why seeks it to 
learn anew what it already knows? If it knows it not, why 
searches it in blindness? For who would desire aught un- 
witting? Or who could seek after that which is unknown? 
How should he find it, or recognise its form when found, if 
he knows it not? And when the mind of man perceived the 
mind of God, did it then know the whole and parts alike? 
Now is the mind buried in the cloudy darkness of the body, 
yet has not altogether forgotten its own self, and keeps the 
whole though it has lost the parts. Whosoever, therefore, seeks 
the truth, is not wholly in ignorance, nor yet has knowledge 
wholly; for he knows not all, yet is not ignorant of all. He 
takes thought for the whole which he keeps in memory, han- 
dling again what he saw on high, so that he may add to that 
which he has kept, that which he has forgotten." 

(Philosophy tries to shew how they may be reconciled.) 
Then said she, "This is the old plaint concerning Provi- 
dence which was so strongly urged by Cicero when treating 
of Divination, 1 and you yourself have often and at length 
questioned the same subject. But so far, none of you have 
explained it with enough diligence or certainty. The cause of 
this obscurity is that the working of human reason cannot 
approach the directness of divine foreknowledge. If this could 
be understood at all, there would be no doubt left. And this 
especially will I try to make plain, if I can first explain your 

"Tell me why you think abortive the reasoning of those 
who solve the question thus; they argue that foreknowledge 
cannot be held to be a cause for the necessity of future results, 
1 Cicero, De Divinatione, n. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 109 

and therefore free will is not in any way shackled by fore- 
knowledge. 1 Whence do you draw your proof of the necessity 
of future results if not from the fact that such things as are 
known beforehand cannot but come to pass? If, then (as you 
yourself admitted just now), foreknowledge brings no neces- 
sity to bear upon future events, how is it that the voluntary 
results of such events are bound to find a fixed end? Now 
for the sake of the argument, that you may turn your atten- 
tion to what follows, let us state that there is no foreknowl- 
edge at all. Then are the events which are decided by free 
will, bound by any necessity, so far as this goes? Of course 
not. Secondly, let us state that foreknowledge exists, but 
brings no necessity to bear upon events; then, I think, the 
same free will will be left, intact and absolute. 'But/ you 
will say, 'though foreknowledge is no necessity for a result 
in the future, yet it is a sign that it will necessarily come to 
pass.' Thus, therefore, even if there had been no foreknowl- 
edge, it would be plain that future results were under neces- 
sity; for every sign can only shew what it is that it points 
out; it does not bring it to pass. Wherefore we must first prove 
that nothing happens but of necessity, in order that it may 
be plain that foreknowledge is a sign of this necessity. Other- 
wise, if there is no necessity, then foreknowledge will not be 
a sign of that which does not exist. Now it is allowed that 
proof rests upon firm reasoning, not upon signs or external 
arguments; it must be deduced from suitable and binding 
causes. How can it possibly be that things, which are foreseen 
as about to happen, should not occur? That would be as 
though we were to believe that events would not occur which 
Providence foreknows as about to occur, and as though we 
did not rather think this, that though they occur, yet they 
have had no necessity in their own natures which brought 
them about. We can see many actions developing before our 
eyes; just as chariot drivers see the development of their 
actions as they control and guide their chariots, and many 
1 Referring to Boethius's words on p. 104. 

no Boethius 

other things likewise. Does any necessity compel any of those 
things to occur as they do? Of course not. All art, craft, and 
intention would be in vain, if everything took place by com- 
pulsion. Therefore, if things have no necessity for coming to 
pass when they do, they cannot have any necessity to be 
about to come to pass before they do. Wherefore there are 
things whose results are entirely free from necessity. For I 
think not that there is any man who will say this t that things, 
which are done in the present, were not about to be done in 
the past, before they are done. Thus these foreknown events 
have their free results. Just as foreknowledge of present things 
brings no necessity to bear upon them as they come to pass, 
so also foreknowledge of future things brings no necessity to 
bear upon things which are to come. 

"But you will say that there is no doubt of this too, whether 
there can be any foreknowledge of things which have not 
results bounden by necessity. For they do seem to lack har- 
mony: and you think that if they are foreseen, the necessity 
follows; if there is no necessity, then they cannot be foreseen; 
nothing can be perceived certainly by knowledge, unless it 
be certain. But if things have uncertainty of result, but are 
foreseen as though certain, this is plainly the obscurity of 
opinion, and not the truth of knowledge. For you believe 
that to think aught other than it is, is the opposite of true 
knowledge. The cause of this error is that every man believes 
that all the subjects, that he knows, are known by their own 
force or nature alone, which are known; but it is quite the 
opposite. For every subject, that is known, is comprehended 
not according to its own force, but rather according to the 
nature of those who know it. Let me make this plain to you 
by a brief example: the roundness of a body may be known 
in one way by sight, in another way by touch. Sight can take 
in the whole body at once from a distance by judging its radii, 
while touch clings, as it were, to the outside of the sphere, and 
from close at hand perceives through the material parts the 
roundness of the body as it passes over the actual circum- 

The Consolation of Philosophy 1 1 1 

ference. A man himself is differently comprehended by the 
senses, by imagination, by reason, and by intelligence. For 
the senses distinguish the form as set in the matter operated 
upon by the form; imagination distinguishes the appearance 
alone without the matter. Reason goes even further than 
imagination; by a general and universal contemplation it 
investigates the actual kind which is represented in individual 
specimens. Higher still is the view of the intelligence, which 
reaches above the sphere of the universal, and with the un- 
sullied eye of the mind gazes upon that very form of the kind 
in its absolute simplicity. Herein the chief point for our con- 
sideration is this: the higher power of understanding includes 
the lower, but the lower never rises to the higher. For the 
senses are capable of understanding naught but the matter; 
imagination cannot look upon universal or natural kinds; 
reason cannot comprehend the absolute form; whereas the 
intelligence seems to look down from above and comprehend 
the form, and distinguishes all that lie below, but in such a 
way that it grasps the very form which could not be known 
to any other than itself. For it perceives and knows the gen- 
eral kind, as does reason; the appearance, as does the imagina- 
tion; and the matter, as do the senses, but with one grasp 
of the mind it looks upon all with a clear conception of the 
whole. And reason too, as it views general kinds, does not 
make use of the imagination nor the senses, but yet does per- 
ceive the objects both of the imagination and of the senses. It 
is reason which thus defines a general kind according to its 
conception: Man, for instance, is an animal, biped and rea- 
soning. This is a general notion of a natural kind, but no man 
denies that the subject can be approached by the imagination 
and by the senses, just because reason investigates it by a 
reasonable conception and not by the imagination or senses. 
Likewise, though imagination takes its beginning of seeing 
and forming appearances from the senses yet without their 
aid it surveys each subject by an imaginative faculty of dis- 
tinguishing, not by the distinguishing faculty of the senses. 

ii2 Boethius 

"Do you see then, how in knowledge of all things, the sub- 
ject uses its own standard of capability, and not those of the 
objects known? And this is but reasonable, for every judg- 
ment formed is an act of the person who judges, and therefore 
each man must of necessity perform his own action from his 
own capability and not the capability of any other. 

"In days of old the Porch at Athens 1 gave us men, seeing 
dimly as in old age, who could believe that the feelings of 
the senses and the imagination were but impressions on the 
mind from bodies without them, just as the old custom was 
to impress with swift-running pens letters upon the surface 
of a waxen tablet which bore no marks before. But if the 
mind with its own force can bring forth naught by its own 
exertions; if it does but lie passive and subject to the marks of 
other bodies; if it reflects, as does, forsooth, a mirror, the vain 
reflections of other things; whence thrives there in the soul 
an all-seeing power of knowledge? What is the force that sees 
the single parts, or which distinguishes the facts it knows? 
What is the force that gathers up the parts it has distin- 
guished, that takes its course in order due, now rises to mingle 
with the things on high, and now sinks down among the things 
below, and then to itself brings back itself, and, so examining, 
refutes the false with truth? This is a cause of greater power, 
of more effective force by far than that which only receives 
the impressions of material bodies. Yet does the passive re- 
ception come first, rousing and stirring all the strength of 
the mind in the living body. When the eyes are smitten with 
a light, or the ears are struck with a voice's sound, then is 
the spirit's energy aroused, and, thus moved, calls upon like 
forms, such as it holds within itself, fits them to signs without 
and mingles the forms of its imagination with those which it 
has stored within. 

1 Zeno, of Citium (342-270 B.C.) , the founder of the Stoic school, taught 
in the Stoa Poekile, whence the name of the school. The following lines 
refer to their doctrine of presentations and impressions. 

The Consolation of Philosophy 113 

(Human reasoning, being lower than divine intelligence, can at best 
only strive to approach thereto.) 

"With regard to feeling the effects of bodies, natures which 
are brought into contact from without may affect the organs 
of the senses, and the body's passive affection may precede 
the active energy of the spirit, and call forth to itself the 
activity of the mind; if then, when the effects of bodies are 
felt, the mind is not marked in any way by its passive recep- 
tion thereof, but declares that reception subject to the body 
of its own force, how much less do those subjects, which are 
free from all affections of bodies, follow external objects in 
their perceptions, and how much more do they make clear the 
way for the action of their mind? By this argument many 
different manners of understanding have fallen to widely dif- 
ferent natures of things. For the senses are incapable of any 
knowledge but their own, and they alone fall to those living 
beings which are incapable of motion, as are sea shell-fish, and 
other low forms of life which live by clinging to rocks; while 
imagination is granted to animals with the power of motion, 
who seem to be affected by some desire to seek or avoid certain 
things. But reason belongs to the human race alone, just as 
the true intelligence is God's alone. Wherefore that mannei 
of knowledge is better than others, for it can comprehend ol 
its own nature not only the subject peculiar to itself, but also 
the subjects of the other kinds of knowledge. Suppose that 
the senses and imagination thus oppose reasoning, saying, 
The universal natural kinds, which reason believes that it 
can perceive, are nothing; for what is comprehensible to the 
senses and the imagination cannot be universal: therefore 
either the judgment of reason is true, and that which can be 
perceived by the senses is nothing; or, since reason knows 
well that there are many subjects comprehensible to the senses 
and imagination, the conception of reason is vain, for it holds 
to be universal what is an individual matter comprehensible 
to the senses.' To this reason might answer, that 'it sees from 
a general point of view what is comprehensible to the senses 

ii4 Boethius 

and the imagination, but they cannot aspire to a knowledge 
of universals, since their manner of knowledge cannot go 
further than material or bodily appearances; and in the mat- 
ter of knowledge it is better to trust to the stronger and more 
nearly perfect judgment. 7 If such a trial of argument oc- 
curred, should not we, who have within us the force of rea- 
soning as well as the powers of the senses and imagination, 
approve of the cause of reason rather than that of the others? 
Tt is in like manner that human reason thinks that the divine 
intelligence cannot perceive the things of the future except 
as it conceives them itself. For you argue thus: 'If there are 
events which do not appear to have sure or necessary results, 
their results cannot be known for certain beforehand: there- 
fore there can be no foreknowledge of these events; for if we 
believe that there is any foreknowledge thereof, there can exist 
nothing but such as is brought forth of necessity.' If therefore 
we, who have our share in possession of reason, could go 
further and possess the judgment of the mind of God, we 
should then think it most just that human reason should yield 
itself to the mind of God, just as we have determined that the 
senses and imagination ought to yield to reason. 

"Let us therefore raise ourselves, if so be that we can, to 
that height of the loftiest intelligence. For there reason will 
see what it cannot of itself perceive, and that is to know how 
even such things as have uncertain results are perceived defi- 
nitely and for certain by foreknowledge; and such foreknowl- 
edge will not be mere opinion, but rather the single and direct 
form of the highest knowledge unlimited by any finite bounds. 

"In what different shapes do living beings move upon the 
earth! Some make flat their bodies, sweeping through the 
dust and using their strength to make therein a furrow with- 
out break; some flit here and there upon light wings which 
beat the breeze, and they float through vast tracks of air in 
their easy flight. Tis others' wont to plant their footsteps on 
the ground, and pass with their paces over green fields or 
under trees. Though all these thou seest move in different 

The Consolation of Philosophy 115 

shapes, yet all have their faces downward along the ground, 
and this doth draw downward and dull their senses. Alone of 
all, the human race lifts up its head on high, and stands in 
easy balance with the body upright, and so looks down to 
spurn the earth. If thou art not too earthly by an evil folly, 
this pose is as a lesson. Thy glance is upward, and thou dost 
carry high thy head, and thus thy search is heavenward: then 
lead thy soul too upward, lest while the body is higher raised, 
the mind sink lower to the earth. 

(Philosophy explains that God's divine intelligence can view all 

things from its eternal mind, while human reason can only see them 

from a temporal point of view.) 

"Since then all that is known is apprehended, as we just 
now shewed, not according to its own nature but according 
to the nature of the knower, let us examine, so far as we law- 
fully may, the character of the divine nature, so that we may 
be able to learn what its knowledge is. 

"The common opinion, according to all men living, is that 
God is eternal. Let us therefore consider what is eternity. For 
eternity will, I think, make clear to us at the same time the 
divine nature and knowledge. 

"Eternity is the simultaneous and complete possession of 
infinite life. This will appear more clearly if we compare it 
with temporal things. All that lives under the conditions of 
time moves through the present from the past to the future; 
there is nothing set in time which can at one moment grasp 
the whole space of its lifetime. It cannot yet comprehend to- 
morrow; yesterday it has already lost. And in this life of 
to-day your life is no more than a changing, passing moment. 
And as Aristotle 1 said of the universe, so it is of all that is 
subject to time; though it never began to be, nor will ever 
cease, and its life is co-extensive with the infinity of time, yet 
it is not such as can be held to be eternal. For though it appre- 
hends and grasps a space of infinite lifetime, it does not em- 
brace the whole simultaneously; it has not yet experienced the 

1 Aristotle, De Colo, i. 

n6 Bocthius 

future. What we should rightly call eternal is that which 
grasps and possesses wholly and simultaneously the fulness 
of unending life, which lacks naught of the future, and has 
lost naught of the fleeting past; and such an existence must 
be ever present in itself to control and aid itself, and also 
must keep present with itself the infinity of changing time. 
Therefore, people who hear that Plato thought that this uni- 
verse had no beginning of time and will have no end, are 
not right in thinking that in this way the created world is 
co-eternal with its creator. 1 For to pass through unending life, 
the attribute which Plato ascribes to the universe is one thing; 
but it is another thing to grasp simultaneously the whole of 
unending life in the present; this is plainly a peculiar property 
of the mind of God. 

"And further, God should not be regarded as older than 
His creations by any period of time, but rather by the peculiar 
property of His own single nature. For the infinite changing 
of temporal things tries to imitate the ever simultaneously 
present immutability of His life: it cannot succeed in imitating 
or equalling this, but sinks from immutability into change, and 
falls from the single directness of the present into an infinite 
space of future and past. And since this temporal state cannot 
possess its life completely and simultaneously, but it does in 
the same manner exist for ever without ceasing, it therefore 
seems to try in some degree to rival that which it cannot fulfil 
or represent, for it binds itself to some sort of present time 
out of this small and fleeting moment; but inasmuch as this 
temporal present bears a certain appearance of that abiding 

1 Boethius speaks of people who "hear that Plato thought, etc.," 
because this was the teaching of some of Plato's successors at the 
Academy. Plato himself thought otherwise, as may be seen in the 
Timaus, e.g. ch. xi. 38 B., "Time then has come into being along with 
the universe, that being generated together, together they may be dis- 
solved, should a dissolution of them ever come to pass; and it was 
made after the pattern of the eternal nature that it might be as like to 
it as possible. For the pattern is existent for all eternity, but the copy 
has been, and is, and shall be, throughout all time continually." (Mr. 
Archer Hind's translation.) 

The Consolation of Philosophy 117 

present, it somehow makes those, to whom it comes, seem to 
be in truth what they imitate. But since this imitation could 
not be abiding, the unending march of time has swept it away, 
and thus we find that it has bound together, as it passes, a 
chain of life, which it could not by abiding embrace in its 
fulness. And thus if we would apply proper epithets to those 
subjects, we can say, following Plato, that God is eternal, but 
the universe is continual. 

"Since then all judgment apprehends the subjects of its 
thought according to its own nature, and God has a condition 
of ever-present eternity, His knowledge, which passes over 
every change of time, embracing infinite lengths of past and 
future, views in its own direct comprehension everything as 
though it were taking place in the present. If you would weigh 
the foreknowledge by which God distinguishes all things, 
you will more rightly hold it to be a knowledge of a never- 
failing constancy in the present, than a foreknowledge of the 
future. Whence Providence is more rightly to be understood 
as a looking forth than a looking forward, because it is set 
far from low matters and looks forth upon all things as from 
a lofty mountain-top above all. Why then do you demand 
that all things occur by necessity, if divine light rests upon 
them, while men do not render necessary such things as they 
can see? Because you can see things of the present, does your 
sight therefore put upon them any necessity? Surely not. If 
one may not unworthily compare this present time with the 
divine, just as you can see things in this your temporal pres- 
ent, so God sees all things in His eternal present. Wherefore 
this divine foreknowledge does not change the nature or in- 
dividual qualities of things: it sees things present in its under- 
standing just as they will result some time in the future. It 
makes no confusion in its distinctions, and with one view of 
its mind it discerns all that shall come to pass whether of 
necessity or not. For instance, when you see at the same time 
a man walking on the earth and the sun rising in the heavens, 
you see each sight simultaneously, yet you distinguish between 
them, and decide that one is moving voluntarily, the other 

n8 Boethius 

of necessity. In like manner the perception of God looks down 
upon all things without disturbing at all their nature, though 
they are present to Him but future under the conditions of 
time. Wherefore this foreknowledge is not opinion but knowl- 
edge resting upon truth, since He knows that a future event 
is, though He knows too that it will not occur of necessity. If 
you answer here that what God sees about to happen, cannot 
but happen, and that what cannot but happen is bound by 
necessity, you fasten me down to the word necessity, I will 
grant that we have a matter of most firm truth, but it is one 
to which scarce any man can approach unless he be a con- 
templator of the divine. For I shall answer that such a thing 
will occur of necessity, when it is viewed from the point of 
divine knowledge; but when it is examined in its own nature, 
it seems perfectly free and unrestrained. For there are two 
kinds of necessities; one is simple: for instance, a necessary 
fact, 'all men are mortal'; the other is conditional; for in- 
stance, if you know that a man is walking, he must be walking: 
for what each man knows cannot be otherwise than it is known 
to be; but the conditional one is by no means followed by 
this simple and direct necessity; for there is no necessity to 
compel a voluntary walker to proceed, though it is necessary 
that, if he walks, he should be proceeding. In the same way, 
if Providence sees an event in its present, that thing must be, 
though it has no necessity of its own nature. And God looks 
in His present upon those future things which come to pass 
through free will. Therefore if these things be looked at from 
the point of view of God's insight, they come to pass of neces- 
sity under the condition of divine knowledge; if, on the other 
hand, they are viewed by themselves, they do not lose the 
perfect freedom of their nature. Without doubt, then, all 
things that God foreknows do come to pass, but some of them 
proceed from free will; and though they result by coming into 
existence, yet they do not lose their own nature, because be- 
fore they came to pass they could also not have come to pass. 

" 'What then/ you may ask, 4s the difference in their not 
being bound by necessity, since they result under all circum- 

The Consolation of Philosophy 119 

stances as by necessity, on account of the condition of divine 
knowledge? 1 This is the difference, as I just now put forward: 
take the sun rising and a man walking; while these operations 
are occurring, they cannot but occur: but the one was bound 
to occur before it did; the other was not so bound. What God 
has in His present, does- exist without doubt; but of such 
things some follow by necessity, others by their authors' wills. 
Wherefore I was justified in saying that if these things be 
regarded from the view of divine knowledge, they are neces- 
sary, but if they are viewed by themselves, they are perfectly 
free from all ties of necessity: just as when you refer all, that 
is clear to the senses, to the reason, it becomes general truth, 
but it remains particular if regarded by itself. 'But/ you will 
say, 'if it is in my power to change a purpose of mine, I will 
disregard Providence, since I may change what Providence 
foresees.' To which I answer, 'You can change your purpose, 
but since the truth of Providence knows in its present that 
you can do so, and whether you do so, and in what direction 
you may change it, therefore you cannot escape that divine 
foreknowledge: just as you cannot avoid the glance of a 
present eye, though you may by your free will turn yourself 
to all kinds of different actions/ 'What?' you will say, 'can 
I by my own action change divine knowledge, so that if 1 
choose now one thing, now another, Providence too will seem 
to change its knowledge?' No; divine insight precedes all 
future things, turning them back and recalling them to the 
present time of its own peculiar knowledge. It does not change, 
as you may think, between this and that alternation of fore- 
knowledge. It is constant in preceding and embracing by one 
glance all your changes. And God does not receive this ever- 
present grasp of all things and vision of the present at the 
occurrence of future events, but from His own peculiar di- 
rectness. Whence also is that difficulty solved which you laid 
down a little while ago, that it was not worthy to say that our 
future events were the cause of God's knowledge. For this 
power of knowledge, ever in the present and embracing all 
things in its perception, does itself constrain all things, and 

120 Boethius 

owes naught to following events from which it has received 
naught. Thus, therefore, mortal men have their freedom of 
judgment intact. And since their wills are freed from all bind- 
ing necessity, laws do not set rewards or punishments unjustly. 
God is ever the constant foreknowing overseer, and the ever- 
present eternity of His sight moves in harmony with the future 
nature of our actions, as it dispenses rewards to the good, and 
punishments to the bad. Hopes are not vainly put in God, nor 
prayers in vain offered: if these are right, they cannot but be 
answered. Turn therefore from vice: ensue virtue: raise your 
soul to upright hopes: send up on high your prayers from this 
earth. If you would be honest, great is the necessity enjoined 
upon your goodness, since all you do is done before the eyes 
of an all-seeing Judge." 






I. Of Following of Christ and Despising of 

all Worldly Vanities 130 

II. Of Meek Knowing of a Man's Self 131 

III. Of the Teaching of Truth 133 

IV. Of Prudence in Man's Works 135 
V. Of Reading of the Scriptures 136 

VI. Of Inordinate Affections 136 

VII. Of Fleeing from Vain Hope and Elation 137 

VIII. Of Eschewing of too great Familiarity 138 

IX. Of Obedience and Subjection 139 

X. Of Eschewing Superfluity of Words 139 

XI. Of Peace to be Gotten and Zeal for Profiting 140 

XII. Of the Profit of Adversity 142 

XIII. Of Withstanding of Temptation 143 

XIV. Of Fleeing Rash Judgment 145 
XV. Of Works done in Charity 146 

XVI. Of Bearing other Men's Infirmities and 

Faults 147 

XVII. Of the Religious Life 148 

XVIII. Of the Examples of the Holy Fathers 149 

XIX. Of the Exercises of a Good Religious Man 150 

XX. Of Love of Silence and to be Alone 1 53 

XXI. Of Compunction of Heart 156 

XXII. Of Consideration of Man's Misery 157 

XXIII. Of Meditation of Death 160 

XXIV. Of the Judgment and of the Pains of Sinners 1 63 

XXV. Of the Fervent Amendment of all of a 

Man's Life 166 

124 Thomas a Kempis 



I. Of Inward Conversation 170 

II. Of Meek Submission 172 

III. Of a Good Peaceable Man 173 

IV. Of Pure and Simple Intention 174 
V. Of Consideration of Oneself 175 

VI. Of the Gladness of a Good Conscience 176 

VII. Of the Love of Jesu above all Things 178 

VIII. Of the Familiar Friendship of Jesu 179 

IX. Of Lacking of all Manner of Solace 181 

X. Of Thanks for the Grace of God 183 

XI. Of the Fewness of the Lovers of the Cross 

of Christ 185 

XII. Of the King's Highway of the Cross 187 


I. Of the Inward Speaking of Christ unto a 

True Soul 192 

II. That the Words of God are to be heard with 

Meekness 193 

III. That the Words of God are to be heard with 

Meekness 194 

IV. A Prayer to ask Grace of Devotion 195 
V. That a Man ought to live before God in 

Truth and in Meekness 196 

VI. Of the Wonderful Effect of the Love of God 1 98 

VII. Of Proving of True Love 200 
VIII. Of Grace to be hid under the Word of 

Meekness 202 
IX. Of Vile Estimation of Oneself in the Sight 

of God 204 

The Imitation of Christ 125 


X. That all Things are to be referred to God as 

to the last end 205 

XI. That, the World despised, it is merry and 

sweet for to serve God 206 

XII. That the Desires of the Heart must be ex- 
amined and modered (moderated) 208 

XIII. Of the learning of Patience and fighting 

against Concupiscence 209 

XIV. Of Obedience of a Meek Subject by Ensam- 

ple of our Lord Jesu 210 

XV. Of Considering the Privy Judgments of God 

against Pride 211 

XVI. How a Man shall stand in everything de- 
sired 213 
XVII. A Prayer to do the Will of God 2 14 
XVIII. That True Solace is to be sought in God 

alone 214 

XIX. That all Business is to be set in God 215 

XX. That Temporal Miseries are to be suffered 

by the Ensample of Christ 216 

XXI. Of Suffering of Wrongs and who is proved 

very Patient 217 

XXII. Of Knowledge of our Infirmity and of 

Miseries of this Life 219 

XXIII. That Man ought to rest in God above all 

Gifts 220 

XXIV. Of Recording (Remembering) the Manifold 

Benefits of God 223 
XXV. Of Four Things bringing Great Peace 224 
XXVI. Against Evil Thoughts 225 
XXVII. A Prayer for Illumination of Mind 225 
XXVIII. Of Eschewing curious Inquisition of an- 
other Man's Life 226 
XXIX. Wherein standeth Peace of Heart and True 

Profiting 227 

126 Thomas a Kempis 


XXX. Of the Excellence of a Free Mind and how 
it is rather gotten by Prayer than by 
Reading 228 

XXXI. That Private Love most tarrieth a Man 

from the highest Good 229 

XXXII. A Prayer for Purgation of Heart and 

Heavenly Wisdom 230 

XXXIII. Against the Tongues of Detractors 231 

XXXIV. That in Time of Tribulation God is In- 

wardly to be called upon and to be 
Blessed 232 

XXXV. Of Asking of God's Help and Trust in 

Recovering Grace 232 

XXXVI. Of Recking never of all Creatures so the 

Creator may be Found 234 

XXXVII. Of Denying Oneself and Forsaking of all 

Cupidity 236 

XXXVIII. Of Unstableness of Heart and of Intention 

to be had towards God 237 

XXXIX. To Him that Loveth, God Savourelh above 

all Things 238 

XL. That there is no Surety from Temptation in 

this Life 239 

XLI. Against Men's Vain Judgments 241 

XLII. Of Pure Resignation of a Man's Self 242 

XLIII. Of Good Governance in Outward Things 243 
XL1V. That Man be not too busy in Worldly Busi- 
ness 244 
XLV. That a Man hath no good of Himself 

whereof to Rejoice 245 

XL VI. Of Contempt of all Honour 246 

XLVII. That Peace is not to be set (put) in Men 247 

XL VIII. Against Vain and Secular Knowledge 248 

XLIX. Of not Attracting Outward Things to a Man 249 

L. That it is not Right to believe all Men and 

of Light Lapse of Words 250 

The Imitation of Christ 127 


LI. Of Trust to be had in God against Evil 

Words 252 

LII. That all Grievous Things are to be suffered 

for the Life to come 254 

LIII. Of the Day of Eternity and the Anguish of 

this Life 255 

LIV. Of Desire of Everlasting Life and how 

Great Things are promised to Fighters 257 
LV. That the Desolate Man ought to offer Him- 
self into the Hands of God 260 
LVI. That Man must give Himself to Low Works 

when High Works Fail 263 

LVII. That Man should account Himself worthy 

of no Consolation 264 

LVITI. That Grace is not Part of them that follow 

Earthly Things 265 

LIX. Of Diverse Movings of Nature and of Grace 267 
LX. Of Corruption of Nature and of the Might 

of Grace 270 

LXI. That we ought to deny Ourselves and follow 

Christ by the Cross 272 

LXII. That a Man (must) not be thrown down 

too much if he fall in any Faults 273 

LXIII. High Things and Privy Judgments of God 

must not be Searched 275 

LXIV. That all Hope and Trust is to be fixed only 

in God 278 


Prologus 280 

I. In what great Reverence and Fervent 
Desire we ought to receive our Lord Jesu 
Christ 281 

128 Thomas & Kempis 


II. How the Great Charity and Bounty of God 
is shewed unto Man in the Holy Sacra- 
ment 285 

III. What great Profit it is often to receive the 

Body of our Lord Jesu Christ 288 

IV. How many Advantages be given unto them 

that Devoutly receive this Holy Sacra- 
ment 290 
V. Of the Dignity of the Sacrament of the 

Altar and of the Order of Priesthood 293 
VI. An Inward Remembrance and Exercise that 
a Man ought to have afore the receiving 
of the Body of our Lord Jesu Christ 294 

VII. The Remembring of his own Conscience 

with Purpose of Amendment 295 

VIII. Of the Oblacion of Jesu Christ on the Cross; 
of the Proper Resignation that Man 
should make of Himself 297 

IX. That we ought to offer unto God all that we 

have, and to Pray for all People 298 

X. That the Holy Sacrament ought not Lightly 

to be Forborne 300 

XI. How the Blessed Body of our Lord Jesu 
Christ is greatly necessary for the Health 
of Man's Soul 303 

XII. With how great Diligence he ought to pre- 
pare himself that should receive the 
Sacrament of Christ 306 

XIII. How the Devout Soul ought Effectually 

with all his Heart to be united unto Jesu 
Christ 308 

XIV. Of the Burning Desire that some Creatures 

have to the Blessed Body of our Lord 
Jesu Christ 310 

The Imitation of Christ 129 


XV. How Meekly thou oughtest to beseech the 
Grace of Devotion and to renounce Thy- 
self 311 
XVI. How we ought to show our Necessities unto 

Jesu Christ and ask of him Benign Grace 312 
XVII. Of the Burning Love and great Affection 
that we should have to receive our Sa- 
viour Christ Jesu 314 
XVIII. That a Man should not be too Curious an 
Inquisitor of that Holy Sacrament, but 
a Meek Follower of Christ Jesu in sub- 
mitting his Reason and Feeling to the 
Holy Faith 316 




OUR Lord saith: he that followeth me goeth not in darkness 
These are the words of Christ in the which we are admonished 

to follow his life and his manners if we would be verily 

illumined and be delivered from all manner of blindness 

of heart 
Wherefore let our sovereign study be in the life of Jesu 

The teaching of Christ passeth the teaching of all saints and 

holy men; and he that hath the spirit of Christ should 

find there hidden manna. 

But it happeneth that many feel but little desire of often hear- 
ing of the gospel; for they have not the spirit of Christ; 
For whoever will understand the words of Christ plainly and 

in their savour must study to conform all his life to his 

What availeth thee to dispute highly of the Trinity if thou 

lack meekness and thereby thou displeasest the Trinity? 
For high words make not a man holy and righteous, but it is 

virtuous life that maketh man dear to God. 
I desire rather to know compunction than its definition. 
If thou knewest all the Bible without book and the sayings of 

all the philosophers, what should that avail thee without 

charity and grace? 


The Imitation oj Christ 131 

All other things in the world, save only to love God and serve 

him, are vanity of vanities and all vanity. 
This is sovereign wisdom by despising of the world for a man 

to draw him nearer to the realm of heaven: but for a man 

to seek perishing riches and to trust in them is vanity. 
And it is vanity also to desire honour and for a man to lift 

himself on high 
And it is vanity to follow the desires of the flesh and to desire 

the thing for which man must afterward grievously be 

And it is vanity to desire a long life and to take no heed of a 

good life 
And it is vanity for a man to take heed only to this present 

life and not to see before those things that are to come 
And it is vanity to love the thing that passeth away with all 

manner of swiftness and not to hasten thither where joy 

abideth everlasting. 
Have mind often of that proverb that the eye is not fulfilled 

with seeing nor the ear with hearing. 
Study therefore to withdraw thy heart from love of things 

visible and turn thee to things invisible 
For they that follow their senses spot their conscience and lose 

the grace of God. 



EVERY man naturally desireth to have knowledge: but knowl- 
edge without the grace and dread of God, what availeth 

Certainly the meek plough man that serveth God is much bet- 
ter than the proud philosopher that, taking no heed of 
his own living, considereth the courses of the heavens. 

He that knoweth himself well is vile in his own sight and hath 
no delight in man's praises. 

132 Thomas a Kempis 

If I knew all things that are in the world and be not in charity 
what should that help me before God who shall doom me 
according to my deeds? 

Cease from over-great desire of knowledge, for therein shall be 
found great distraction and deceit. 

They that are learned will gladly be seen and held wise and 
many things there be whose knowledge availeth the soul 
little or naught. And full unwise is he that more attendeth 
to other things than to the health of his soul. 

Many words fill not the soul but a good life refresheth the 
mind and a pure conscience giveth a great confidence in 

The more thou canst do and the better that thou canst do, the 
more grievously thou shalt be doomed unless thou live 
the more holily. Be not lift up therefore for any skill or 
any knowledge but rather dread for the knowledge that 
is given thee. 

If it seemeth to thee that thou knowest many things and art 
understanding enough, yet are there many more things 
that thou knowest not. 

Think not highly of thyself but rather acknowledge thine 

Why wilt thou prefer thyself before any other since many 
other are found better learned and more wise in the law 
of God than thou? 

If thou wilt learn and know any thing profitably, love to be 
unknown and to be accounted as naught. 

This is the highest and most profitable reading, the very know- 
ing and despising of a man's self. For a man to account 
nothing of himself but evermore to think well and highly 
of other folks is sovereign wisdom and perfection. 

If thou see any man sin openly or do grievous sins thou ought- 
est not to deem thyself better; for thou knowest not how 
long thou mayest abide in good. 

All we be frail but thou shalt hold no man frailer than thyself. 

The Imitation of Christ 133 



BLISSFUL is he whom truth herself teacheth not by figures or 
voices but as it is. 

Our opinions and our feeling ofttimes deceive us and see but 

What availeth great searching of dark and hidden things for 
the which we shall not be blamed in the judgment though 
we know them not? 

A great unwisdom it is that we, setting at naught profitable 
and necessary things, give our utmost attention to curi* 
ous and harmful things. We, having eyes, see not. 

And why care we of general kinds and special kinds? (genera 
and species) 

He to whom the word everlasting speaketh is sped and deliv- 
ered from a multitude of opinions. Of one word came 
all things, and all things speak one word; that is the be- 
ginning that speaketh to us. No man without him under- 
standeth or judgeth righteously. 

He to whom all things are one and who draweth all things to 
one and seeth all things in one may be stable in heart and 
peaceably abide in God. 

O God of truth make me one with thee in everlasting love. 

Ofttimes it wearieth me to hear and read many things: in thee 
Lord is all that I will and desire. 

All manner of teachers hold they their peace and all manner 
of creatures keep they their silence in thy sight: speak 
thou to me alone. 

The more that a man is inwardly at one with thee alone the 
more things and the higher doth he understand, for he 
taketh his light of understanding from above. 

A pure, simple and a stable spirit is not distracted with many 
works for he worketh all things to the honour of God and 

134 Thomas a Kempis 

laboureth to be idle in himself from all manner of inquiry 
with his own knowledge. 

What hindereth thee more and troubleth thee more than thine 
unmortified affection of heart? 

A good and a devout man first disposeth his works inwardly 
which he proposeth to do outwardly. Nor do these works 
draw him to desires of vicious inclination but rather he 
boweth them to the judgment of right reason. 

Who hath a stronger battle than he that useth force to over- 
come himself? and that should be our occupation, for a 
man to overcome himself and every day to be stronger 
than himself somewhat to do better. 

All manner of perfection in this world hath a manner of im- 
perfection annexed thereto and our speculation is not 
without darkness on some side. 

Meek knowing of thyself is more acceptable to God than deep 
inquiry after knowing. 

Knowledge or bare and simple knowing of things is not to be 
blamed, the which, in itself considered, is good and or- 
dained of God: but a good conscience and a virtuous life 
is ever to be preferred. 

And forasmuch as many people study more to have knowledge 
than to live well therefore ofttimes they err and bring 
forth little fruit or none. 

O if men would give so great diligence to root out vices and to 
plant virtues as they do to move questions there would 
not be so much wickedness in the people nor so much 
laxity in cenobies (convents) and monasteries. 

Certainly at the day of doom it shall not be asked of us what 
we have read but what we have done: nor what good we 
have said but how religiously we have lived. 

Tell me now where are the lords and masters that thou knewest 
sometime while they lived and flourished in the schools? 
Now other men have their prebends and I wot not whether 
they once think upon them. In their lives they appeared 
somewhat and now almost no man speaketh of them. O 
Lord how soon passeth the glory of this world. 

The Imitation of Christ 135 

Would God that their life had been according to their knowl- 
edge for then they had well studied and well read. 

How many be there that perish in this world by vain knowl- 
edge and little reck of the service of God. And for that 
they choose rather to be great than meek therefore they 
vanish away in their own thoughts. 

Verily he is great that in himself is little and meek and setteth 
at naught all height of honour. Verily he is great that 
hath great charity. Verily he is prudent that deemeth all 
earthly things as stinking dung so that he may win Christ. 
And he is verily well learned that doth the will of God 
and forsaketh his own. 



IT is not fit to give credence to every word nor to every stirring 

(suggestion), but every thing is to be weighed according 

to God warily and in leisure. 
Alas, evil of another man is rather believed than good; we are 

so weak. 
But the perfect believe not lightly all things that men tell, for 

they know man's infirmity, ready to speak evil and sliding 

enough in words. 
Hereto it belongeth also not to believe every man's words nor 

to tell other men that that we hear or lightly believe. 
Have thy counsel with a wise man and a man of conscience 

and seek rather to be taught of thy better than to follow 

thine own inventions. 
Good life maketh a man wise in God's sight and expert in 

many things. 
The more meek that a man is and the more subject to God the 

more wise shall he be in all things, and the more patient 

136 Thomas & Kempis 



TRUTH is to be sought in holy writings, not in eloquence. Every 
holy writing ought to be read with the same spirit where- 
with it was made. 

We ought in Scriptures rather to seek profitableness than high- 
ness of language. 

We ought as gladly to read simple and devout books as high 
books and profound sentences. 

Let not the authority of him that writeth whether he be of 
great name or little change thy thought, but let the love 
of pure truth draw thee to the love of God. 

Ask not who said this but take heed what is said. Man passeth 
but the truth of our Lord abideth everlastingly. 

God speaketh to us in diverse wise without acceptance of 

Our curiosity oft times in reading of the scriptures deceiveth 
us in that we search for curious thought where it is to be 
passed over simply and not curiously enquired. 

If thou wilt draw profit in reading, read meekly simply and 
truly, not desiring to have a name of knowledge. 

Ask gladly, and hear, holding thy peace. 

And let not the parables of elder men displease thee for they 
are not brought forth without cause 



WHENEVER a man coveteth anything inordinately anon, he is 

unrested in himself. 
The proud man and covetous hath never rest: the poor man 

and meek in spirit is delighted in multitude of peace. 

The Imitation of Christ 137 

The man that is not perfectly dead in himself is soon tempted 
and soon overcome in small things and things of little 

He that is feeble in spirit and yet in fleshly manner inclined 
to sensual things can not lightly withdraw himself wholly 
from earthly desires: wherefore ofttimes when he with- 
draweth a little he is sorry; and when any man with- 
standeth his will he disdaineth him. 

And if he obtain that he desireth anon he is grieved in his con- 
science that he hath followed his own passion, the which 
helpeth nothing to the peace that he sought. Wherefore in 
withstanding of passions and not in serving them standeth 
very peace of heart. 

Wherefore then is no peace in the heart of the fleshly man nor 
in him that is all given to outward things, but in the fer- 
vent spiritual man. 



HE is vain that putteth his hope in men or in creatures. 

Be not ashamed to serve other men for the love of Jesu Christ 

and to be seen poor in this world. Stand not upon thyself 

but set thy trust in God. Do that in thee is and God shall 

be nigh to thy good will. 
Trust not in thine own knowledge nor in the wiliness of any 

man living: but rather in the grace of God that helpeth 

meek folk and maketh low them that presume of them- 
. selves. 
Rejoice thee not in riches if thou have any nor in friends if 

they be mighty: but in God that giveth all things and 

above all things desireth to give himself. 
Lift not up thyself for greatness nor for beauty of body the 

which is corrupt and defouled with a little sickness. 

138 Thomas a Kempis 

Please not thyself for ability or for wit lest thou displease God 

of whom cometh all the good that thou hast naturally. 
Account not thyself better than other lest peradventure thou 

be held worse in the sight of God that knoweth what is 

in man. 
Be not proud of good works; for God's judgments are thiswise 

and man's otherwise; for ofttimes what pleaseth man 

displeaseth God. 
If thou have any good things believe better things of others 

that thou may keep thy meekness. 
It shall not annoy thee if thou set thee under all men: it might 

hinder thee much if thou set thyself afore other. 
Continual peace is with the meek man but in the heart of the 

proud man is oft envy and indignation. 



SHOW not thy heart to every man but bring thy cause to him 

that is wise and dreadeth God. 
Be rarely among young people and strange folks. 
Blandish not rich men and appear not before great men: but 

accompany thyself with meek and simple men and treat 

of such things as belong to edification. 
Be not familiar to any woman but generally commend all good 

women to God. 
Desire to be familiar with God and with his angels and eschew 

knowledge of men. Charity is to be had towards all men 

but familiarity is not expedient. 
It happeneth some times that a person unknown shineth by 

his bright fame whose presence offendeth and maketh 

dark the eyes of the beholders. We often hope to please 

others by our being and living together with them and 

often we begin to displease through ungodly manners 

found in us. 

The Imitation oj Christ 139 



IT is a right great thing for a man to stand under obedience 

and live under a prelate and not to be at his own liberty; 

it is much more sure (safe) to stand in subjection than 

in prelacy. 
Many are under obedience more of necessity than of charity: 

and they have pain and soon and lightlygrutch (grumble) 

and shall never get liberty of mind till they with all their 

heart subdue themselves for God. 
Run here and there, thou shalt never find quiet but in meek 

subjection under a prelate; imagination and changing of 

place have deceived many a one. 
True is it that every man after his own wit is inclined most 

to them that feel as he doth: but if God be among us it is 

needful for us some times to forsake our own feelings for 

the good of peace. 
Who is so wise that may fully know all things? Wherefore 

trust not too much in thine own feeling but desire gladly 

to hear other men's feelings. If thy feeling be good and 

thou, for God, leaves t that and folio west another man's 

feeling thou shalt more profit thereby. 
I have heard ofttimes that it is more sure (safe) to hear and 

to take counsel than to give counsel. 
It may well be that every man feel well (i.e., have good 

thoughts) : but for a man no wise to agree with other men 

when reason and the matter require it is token of pride 

and obstinacy. 



ESCHEW thou noise and the press of men as much as thou may- 
est: for treating and talking of secular deeds though they 

140 Thomas a Kempis 

be brought forth with true and simple intention, hind- 
ereth much: for we be soon defiled and led into vanity. 

I have wished myself of ttimes to have held my peace and not 
to have been among men; but why speak we and talk 
we together so gladly since seldom we come home with- 
out hurting of conscience? 

Therefore we talk so oft together because by such speaking 
we seek comfort each from the other and to relieve the 
heart that is made weary with divers thoughts: and we 
speak much of such things as we love or desire or such 
things as are contrary to us: but, alas, of ttimes very 
vainly and unfruitfully. For such outward comfort is a 
great hindering of inward and heavenly consolation and 
therefore we ought to wake and to pray that our time 
pass not idly. 

If it be lawful and expedient to speak, speak of such things as 
belong to edification. Evil use and the taking no heed of 
our ghostly (spiritual) increase and profiting doth much 
towards the evil keeping of our mouths. Nevertheless de- 
vout conference on spiritual things, and that where men 
of one soul and one spirit are fellowshipped together in 
God, helpeth greatly to spiritual profiting. 



WE SHOULD have much peace if we were not occupied with 
other men's deeds and sayings that belong not to our care. 
How may he long abide in peace that meddleth himself 
with other men's cares, that seeketh occasions outward 
and seldom gathereth himself within himself? 

Blissful are the simple for they shall have much peace. 

Why were some holy men sometime so perfect and so con- 
templative but that they studied to mortify themselves 
in all wise from earthly desires? And therefore they could 

The Imitation of Christ 141 

take heed to themselves and cleave to God with ail the 
inward of their hearts. 

But we are occupied with our own passions and are busied 
overmuch in transitory things. 

Also seldom it is that we overcome any vice perfectly: and we 
tend not every day to increase and therefore we abide 
cold and luke (lukewarm). 

If we were perfectly dead to ourselves and not entangled too 
much with outward things then might we taste godly 
things and somewhat know of heavenly contemplation. 

The whole and the greatest impediment is that we are not free 
from passions and concupiscences, nor do we force our- 
selves to enter in the way of holy men and saints. 

Also when there cometh a little adversity we be anon thrown 
down and we turn us to seek man's comfort. 

If we would force ourselves to stand in battle as mighty men 
we should see verily the help of our Lord come from 
heaven: for he is ready to help all them that fight for 
him and trust in his grace, and suffereth us to have occa- 
sions of fighting that we may have the victory. 

If we put profiting of religion in outward observances alone 
our devotion shall soon have an end; but let us set the 
axe to the root that we, purged of our passions, may have 
a peaceable mind. 

If every year we destroyed groundly (utterly) one vice we 
should soon be perfect men; but ofttimes we feel the 
contrary; for we find ourselves better and purer in the 
beginning of our conversion than after many years of 
our profession. Our fervour and our profiting ought to 
increase daily but now it seemeth a great thing if we 
may have but a part of our first fervour. 

If we would in the beginning put (use) a little violence we 
should be able to do all things afterward with easiness 
and gladness. 

It is grievous to leave things accustomed and it is more griev- 
ous for a man to do against his own will; but if thou 

142 Thomas a Kempis 

overcome not small and light things when shalt thou over- 
come harder things? 

Withstand thine inclination and unlearn evil custom lest little 
and little it bring thee to greater difficulty. 

if thou wouldst take heed how much peace thou shouldst 
get to thyself and how much gladness thou shouldst cause 
to other men in keeping thyself well, I suppose that thou 
wouldst be more busy about spiritual profiting. 



IT is good to us that we have some times grievances and con- 
trarieties: for ofttimes they call a man into himself that 
he may know himself to be in an exile and that he may 
put not his trust in any earthly thing. 

It is good that some time we suffer gainsaying and that men 
thmk of us evil and imperfectly; yea, though we do well 
and mean well. 

Such things help ofttimes to meekness and defend us from 
vainglory: for then we seek better the inward witness, 
God, when we be little set by outwardly of men and little 
credence is given to us. 

Therefore a man ought to firm (strengthen) himself in God so 
that he needeth not to seek any consolations outwardly. 

When a man well disposed is troubled tempted or vexed with 
evil thoughts then he understandeth God to be more 
necessary unto him without whom he perceiveth that he 
may do no good thing ; then he mourneth, then he waileth, 
and then he prayeth because of the miseries that he suf- 
fereth. Then also it wearieth him to live any longer: he 
desireth death that he may be dissolved and be with 

Then also he perceiveth certainly that perfect surety and full 
peace may not be had in this world. 

The Imitation of Christ 143 



ALL the while we are in this world we may not be without 
tribulation and temptation ; as it is written in Job "Temp- 
tation is man's life on earth." And therefore every man 
ought to be busy about his temptations and to wake 
(watch) in prayers, that the enemy find no place to 
deceive thee for he sleepeth never but goeth about seeking 
whom he may devour. 

There is no man so perfect nor so holy but that some time he 
hath temptations and we may not fully lack them. 

Nevertheless temptations are of ttimes right profitable to men, 
though they be heavy and grievous; for in them a man is 
meekened (humbled), purged and sharply taught. 

All holy men have gone and profited by many tribulations 
and temptations: and they that could not well suffer 
temptation were made reprobate and they failed in their 

Neither is no order so holy nor no place so sure and secret but 
there be temptations or adversities there. 

There is no man all sure from temptations while he liveth; for 
in ourselves is that whereof we be tempted since we are 
born in concupiscence. 

When one tribulation or temptation goeth another cometh 
and ever shall we have somewhat to suffer for we have 
lost the good of felicity. 

Many men seek to overcome temptations only by fleeing of 
them and they fall much more grievously into them. By 
only fleeing we may not overcome, but by patience and 
meekness we shall be stronger than all our enemies. 

He that only outwardly declineth from temptation and taketh 
it not up by the root shall little profit: but rather tempta- 
tions shall come upon him again and he shall feel worse 
and worse. 

144 Thomas a Kempis 

Thou shall overcome them better little and little by patience 
and long-suffering with the help of God than with hard- 
ness and thine own importunity. 

In temptation ofttimes ask counsel. 

Be not hard to him that is tempted, but give him comfort as 
thou wouldest should be done to thee. 

The beginning of all temptations is inconstancy of heart and 
little trust in God; for as a ship without governance is 
stirred hitherward and thitherward with the waves so a 
man that is remiss and that holdeth not stedfastly his 
purpose is diversely tempted. 

Fire proveth gold and temptation proveth the righteous man. 

Ofttimes we wot never what lieth in our power to do but 
temptation openeth what we be. 

Nevertheless we ought to watch principally about the be- 
ginning for then is the enemy soonest overcome if he be 
not suffered to enter unto the door of the mind; but anon, 
as he knocketh, meet him at entry. 

First there cometh to mind a simple thought, after that a 
strong imagination and then delectation of a shrewd 
moving and assenting. 

So the wicked enemy while he is not withstood in the beginning 
entereth hi little and little till he be all in; and the longer 
a man tarrieth in withstanding, the more feeble he waxeth 
continually and his enemy against him is more mighty. 

Some men have most grievous temptations in the beginning 
of their conversion, some in the end: some in all their life 
have no ease. 

Many men are tempted full easily after the wisdom and equity 
of the ordinance of God that peiseth (weigheth) the 
states and merits of men and ordaineth all things to the 
help of his chosen children. 

Wherefore we ought not to despair when we be tempted but 
the more fervently pray God that he vouchsafe to help 
us in every tribulation; for he, as Saint Paul saith, shall 
make in tribulation such profiting that we shall suffer it 
and abide it. 

The Imitation of Christ 145 

Wherefore let us bow our souls under the mighty hand of God 

in every tribulation and temptation; for them that are 

meek in spirit he shall save and enhance. 
In temptations and tribulations it is proved how much a man 

profiteth and there is most merit and virtue is best shown. 
It is no great thing if a man be devout and fervent if he feel 

no heaviness but if he suffer patiently in time of adversity 

there is hope of great profiting. 
Some men are preserved from great temptations and in small 

ones are daily overcome; that so, humbled, they may 

trust never in themselves in great things who are found 

feeble in so little things. 



TURN thine eyes to thyself and be not a judge of other men's 

In judging other men a man laboureth in vain, of ttimes erreth 

and lightly sinneth: but in judging and discussing a man's 

self ever he laboureth fruitfully. 
As it lieth in our heart so for the most part we judge and 

lightly we lose our true judgment for our own likings. 
If God were always the true intention of our desire we should 

not easily be troubled at the withstanding of our opinions; 

but ofttimes something is hidden within or cometh from 

without that draweth our judgment (aside) . 
Many privily seek their own advantage in things that they 

judge and yet they know it not. 
It seemeth also to them that all is well when all things fall 

after their own rule and their own feelings; and if it fall 

otherwise than they desire then they are soon moved and 

From diversity of opinions and of wits ofttimes come dissen- 

146 Thomas d Kempis 

sions between friends and neighbours, between religious 

and devout people. 
Old custom is hard to break and scarce any man will be led 

otherwise than seemeth good unto himself. 
If thou lean more on thine own reason than on the humbling 

virtue of Jesu Christ it will be late before thou be a man 

illuminate; for God will have us perfectly subject unto 

him and by love brightened and burning will have us 

pass by the reason of all manner of men. 



EVIL is not to be done for nothing in this world nor for man's 
love. For the profit of him that is needy a good work may 
sometimes be left or else changed for the better: for in 
this manner the good work is not destroyed but changed. 

Without charity the outward work availeth naught; but what- 
ever is done of charity, be it never so simple nor so little, 
all is fruitful. For God weigheth more with how great 
charity a man doth a work than how great a work he doth. 

He that loveth much doth much; and he doth much that doth 
a thing well. 

He doth well that serveth more the common weal than his own 

Ofttimes it seemeth to be charity and it is carnality: for 
carnal inclination, one's own will, hope of reward, affec- 
tion for profit are but seldom out of the way but ever 

He that hath very and perfect charity seeketh himself in 
nothing but only desireth the glory of God in all things 
and above all things. Also he hath envy to no man for he 
loveth no private or personal joy; nor he will not joy in 
himself but above all things he desireth to be made bliss- 
ful in God. He ascribeth to no man any good thing but 

The Imitation oj Christ 147 

wholly referreth all things to God of whom they proceed 
originally in whom all saints rest finally. 
O he that had verily that knowledge of charity would truly 
feel that all earthly things are full of vanity. 



SUCH things as a man may not amend in himself and in others 
he ought to suffer patiently till God ordain the contrary. 

Think peradventure that it is better for thee to suffer such 
contrarieties for thy proving and thy patience; without 
which our merits are of little price. Nevertheless thou 
oughtest for such impediments to pray meekly to God 
that he vouchsafe to help thee that thou mayest suffer 

If any such there be that be once or twice admonished and 
will not agree nor be counselled strive not with him but 
commit all to God that his will and his worship may be 
done and had in all his servants he can well turn evil 
into good. 

Study to be patient in suffering and bearing other men's faults 
and all manner infirmities: for thou hast in thee many 
things that must be suffered by other men. If thou canst 
not make thyself such as thou wouldest how canst thou 
have another at thy pleasure? Gladly we desire to make 
other men perfect but we will not amend our own fault; 
we will that other men be straightly corrected and we 
ourselves will not be corrected. Other men's large licence 
displease th us but we to ourselves will have nothing de- 
nied that we ask. We will have others restrained by 
statutes and we will suffer ourselves in no wise to be 
more restrained. 

And thus it appeareth how seldom we weigh our neighbour as 

148 Thomas a Kempis 

If all men were perfect what should we then have to suffer 
from other men for God's sake? Now therefore God hath 
ordained that we should learn each to bear others burdens. 
For there is no man without fault, no man without a 
burden, no man sufficient to himself, no man wise enough 
to himself but we must bear together, comfort together, 
help together, teach and admonish together. 

What every man truly is is best shown by occasion of ad- 
versity: for occasions make not a man fail but they show 
what the man is. 



IT BEHOVETH that thou learn to break thyself in many things 
if thou wilt accord and keep peace with others. 

It is no little thing for a man to dwell in monasteries and con- 
gregations and there to live without quarrel and so truly 
to abide to his life's end. Blissful is he that liveth there 
well and graciously continueth. 

If thou wilt stand rightly and wilt profit account thyself to 
be an exile and a pilgrim upon earth. 

It behoveth thee to be a fool for Christ. 

If thou wilt lead a religious life habit and tonsure avail little: 
but change of manners and whole mortification of the 
passions make a true religious man. 

He that seeketh other than God to the health of his soul he 
shall find but tribulation and sorrow: nor may he long 
stand in peace unless he enforce himself to be least and 
subject to all. 

Thou comest to serve and not to govern: know well that thou 
art called to suffer and to labour and not to be idle and 
tell tales. 

Here are men proved as gold in the furnace: here may no man 
stand unless he will meeken (humble) himself with all 
his heart for God. 

The Imitation of Christ 149 



BEHOLD the living examples of the old fathers in the which 
shineth true perfection and thou shalt see how little it is 
and almost naught that we do. Alas, what is our life 
compared to them? 

Holy men and the friends of God have served our Lord in 
hunger and in thirst, in cold and nakedness, in labour and 
weariness, in wakings and fastings, in prayers and holy 
meditations, in persecutions and many reproofs. O how 
many and how grievous tribulations apostles suffered, 
martyrs, confessors, virgins, and all Religious that would 
follow the steps of Christ: for they hated their souls, that 
is to say their bodily lives, that they might keep them 
into life everlasting. 

O how strict a life lived the holy fathers in the desert; how 
long and how grievous temptations suffered they: how oft 
were they vexed by the enemy: how continual and how 
fervent prayers offered they to God: how sharp their 
abstinences; how great zeal and fervour had they to 
spiritual profiting: how great battle kept they about de- 
struction of vices; how pure and right intention was theirs 
towards God. 

By day they laboured and by night they gave themselves to 
prayer, though even in labouring they ceased not from 
inward prayer; every time they spent fruitfully, every 
hour given to thought of God seemed short and for the 
great sweetness of their contempla\ion sometimes the 
necessity of bodily food was forgotten. 

They renounced all manner of riches, dignity, honours, friends 
and kin : they cared to have naught from the world, scarce 
they took what was necessary for life and were sorry to 
have to serve the body in its necessity. They were poor 
in earthly things but right rich in grace and virtues. Out- 

150 Thomas a Kempis 

wardly they were needy but inwardly they were re- 
freshed with grace and ghostly comfort. 

To the world they were aliens but to God they were familiar 
friends. To themselves they seemed as naught and de- 
spised by the world but in the eyes of God they seemed 
precious and chosen. 

They stood in true meekness, they lived in simple obedience, 
they walked in charity and patience: and therefore 
every day they profited in spirit and gat great grace in 
the eyes of God. 

They were given as an example to all Religious men and these 
ought to provoke us more to live and profit well than the 
great number of sluggish and lukewarm men to make us 
remiss and lax. 

O how great was the fervour of religion in the beginning of its 

O how great devotion in praise, how great zeal for following 
virtue, how great discipline throve during that time: how 
great reverence and obedience under a rule flourished in 
them all. 

Witness yet their steps that are left to show that they were 
truly holy men and perfect men who fighting so doughtily 
threw the world under foot. 

Now is he accounted great that is not a breaker of the rule, 
that can suffer patiently what happeneth to him. O the 
sluggishness and the negligence of our time, that we so 
soon decline from our earlier fervour and are weary to 
live for very sluggishness and weariness. 

Would God that the profiting of virtue sleep not utterly in 
thee that hast seen so many examples of devout men. 



THE life of a good Religious man ought to shine in all manner 
of virtue so that he be such inward as he appeareth to 

The Imitation of Christ 151 

men outward. And rightly it ought to be much more in- 
ward than that which is seen outward. For God is our 
beholder whom chiefly we ought to worship wherever we 
be and go clean in his sight as angels. 

Every day we ought to renew our purpose and stir ourselves 
to fervour as though we had been first converted and 
say "Help me, Lord God, in my good purpose and in 
thy service and grant rne this day to begin perfectly; for 
naught it is that I have done unto this time." 

According to our purpose so is the course of our profiting, and 
he that will profit well hath need of great diligence: for 
if he that purposeth seriously faileth of ttimes what shall 
hap to him that seldom or never purposeth anything 

Nevertheless in divers manners it happeneth that men forsake 
their purpose; and though it appear to be slight yet it is 
not without some manner of hindering. 

The purpose of righteous men hangeth rather in the grace of 
God than in man's own wisdom; in him they trust always 
in all things that they do. 

For man purposeth and God disposeth; and man's way is not 
in man (to carry out). 

If an accustomed exercise be sometimes left because of pity 
or for the profit of our neighbour it may soon be recov- 
ered again: but if it be lightly forsaken through heaviness 
of soul or negligence it is blameworthy and will be found 

Let us enforce ourselves as much as we can and yet we shall 
lightly fail in many things. But ever more somewhat 
certain is to be purposed and especially against those 
things that most hinder us. 

Our outward and our inward exercises both ought to be 
searched and kept in order for both are expedient and 
helping to ghostly profit. 

If thou may not continually gather thyself together, do it some 
time at least once a day, morning or evening. 

In the morning purpose, in the eventide discuss the manner, 

152 Thomas d Kempis 

what thou hast been this day in word, work and thought: 
for in these perad venture thou hast oft offended thy God 
and thy neighbour. 

Gird thee as a man against the Fiend's wickedness. 

Refrain from gluttony and thou shalt the more easily restrain 
all the inclination of the Hesh. 

Be never all idle, but either be reading or writing or praying 
or thinking or something labouring for the common profit. 

Bodily exercises are to be done discreetly; not to be taken 
evenly and alike by all men. 

Those things that are not common to all are not to be shown 
outwardly, for private things are more safely exercised 
in secret wise. 

Nevertheless be ware that thou be not slow in common things 
and more ready for private and singular exercises; but, 
these that are due and enjoined being truly fulfilled, if 
there be vacant time, yield thee to thyself as devotion 

All must not have one manner of exercise, but one this, another 
that, as according. 

Also diversity of exercises pleaseth, for some are more savoury 
on festival days and some on common days; others we 
need in time of temptation, others in time of peace and 
quietness: others we must think when we are sorry and 
others when we are glad in our Lord. 

In principal feasts good exercises ought to be renewed and 
the help of the saints more fervently to be sought. 

From feast to feast we ought to purpose as though we should 
at that time pass out of this world and go to the feast 

Therefore we ought to array ourselves more busily in devout 
works and live the more devoutly and keep every ob- 
servance the more strictly as men that shall soon receive 
the reward of our labour. And if it be delayed let us ac- 
count ourselves as men not fully ready and unworthy to 
come to so great a glory the which shall be revealed in us 

The Imitation of Christ 153 

in time ordained and let us study to make us ready to go 
out of the world. 

"Blissful is that servant" saith Luke "whom our Lord when 
he cometh findeth waking; for I say to you verily he 
shall set him over all his goods." 



SEEK a convenient time to take heed to thyself and think 

ofttimes of the benefits of God. 
Leave curious things and read such matters that rather give 

compunction than occupation. 
If thou withdraw thyself from void speakings and idle circuits 

and from vanities and hearing of tidings thou shalt find 

time sufficient and convenient to have sweet meditations. 
The great holy men where they might, fled men's fellowship 

and chose to live to God in secret places. 
One said "as ofttimes as I was among men I came back a less 

man" that is to say less holy: this we find by experience 

when we talk any while. 
It is easier for a man always to be still than not to exceed in 

words. It is easier for a man to abide privily at home 

than well to keep himself being away from home. 
Wherefore whoever purposeth to come to inward and to 

spiritual things it behoveth him to decline from the com- 
pany of people with Jesu. 
No man appeareth safely away from home but he that loveth 

gladly to abide at home. 

No man speaketh safely but he that is glad to hold his peace. 
No man is safe above but he that will gladly be beneath. 
No man commandeth safely but he that hath learned to obey. 
No man rejoiceth safely but he that hath the witness of a 

good conscience. 
Nevertheless the safety of holy men was never without dread 

154 Thomas d Kempis 

of God; nor were they the less busy and meek in them- 
selves though they had great virtues and grace. 

The safety of shrews (wicked men) groweth from pride and 
presumption and in the end it turneth into deceit. 

Promise thyself safety in this world never, though thou seem 
a good religious man or a devout hermit: Ofttimes they 
that are best in man's estimation fall most perilously for 
their trust in themselves. 

Wherefore it is not profitable that they lack temptations ut- 
terly but they should ofttimes be attacked lest they be 
too secure and lest they be lift up by pride and lightly 
decline to outer consolations. 

O he that never sought transitory gladness, he that never 
occupied him in the world, how good a conscience would 
he keep. 

O he that would cut away all manner of vain business and 
would think all only on ghostly and godly things and set 
all his hope in God how great peace and quiet should 
he have. 

There is no man worthy heavenly comfort unless he diligently 
exercise himself in holy compunction. If thou heartily 
be sorry enter into thy closet, exclude all worldly noise 
as it is written "Be ye sorry in your chambers"; thou 
shalt find there what outside thou shalt ofttimes lose. 

The cell well continued waxeth sweet and the cell evil kept 
engendreth weariness. If in the beginning of thy con- 
version thou keep thy cell and dwell well therein it shall 
be to thee afterwards as a dear and well beloved friend 
and most pleasant solace. 

In silence and quiet the devout soul profiteth and learneth 
the secrets of the scriptures: there he findeth the floods 
of tears wherewith every night he may wash and cleanse 
himself that he may be the more familiar to his creator 
the more he withdraweth him far from secular noise. 

He that withdraweth himself from friends and known men, 
God shall come nigh unto him with his holy angels. 

The Imitation of Christ 155 

Better it is for a man to be hid and take care of himself than, 
taking no heed of himself, to work wonders. 

It is commendable for a man of religion seldom to go out, to 
fly from being seen and not wish to see men; why wilt 
thou see what is not lawful for thee to have? 

The world passeth and his concupiscence. 

The desires of sensuality draw men to walk about; but when 
the hour is past what cometh thereof but grudging (mur- 
muring) of conscience and dispersion of heart? 

A glad going out of ttimes bringeth forth a sorrowful coming 
home and a glad watching over evening bringeth forth 
a sorry morning; so every fleshly joy entereth in pleas- 
antly but in the end he biteth and slayeth. 

What canst thou see elsewhere that thou canst not see here? 
Lo here heaven earth and all elements and of these all 
things are made. 

What canst thou see elsewhere that may long abide under 
the sun? peradventure thou waitest to be filled; but thou 
shalt never come thereto. 

If thou sawest all things that are present what were that but 
a vain sight? Lift up thine eyes to God on high and pray 
God for thy sins and negligence: leave vain things to 
the vain and take thou heed to the things that God com- 
mandeth thee. 

Shut thy door upon thee and call to thee Jesu thy love: dwell 
with him in thy cell for thou shalt not find elsewhere 
so great peace. 

If thou hadst not gone out nor heard no tidings thou wouldst 
the better have abided in peace; and since it delighteth 
thee sometimes to hear new tidings it behoveth, follow- 
ing this, that thou suffer turbation of heart. 

156 Thomas a Kempis 



IF THOU wilt any wise profit keep thee in the dread of God 
and be not in great liberty but refrain thy understanding 
under discipline and give not thyself to unseasonable 

Give thyself to compunction of heart and thou shalt find de- 
votion; compunction openeth many things which distrac- 
tion of mind soon loseth. 

Wonder it is that a man may at any time be glad that con- 
sidereth his exile and so many perils of his soul. For 
through lightness of heart and negligence of our faults 
\ve feel not the sorrows and the harm done to our souls 
and ofttimes we laugh vainly when we should by reason 
rather weep. 

There is no true liberty nor good mirth but in the dread of 
God with a good conscience; blissful is he that may put 
away every hindering distraction and bring himself to 
the unity of holy compunction : blissful is he that voideth 
from him all that may defoul or grieve his conscience. 

Fight manly: custom is overcome with custom. 

If thou canst leave men, they will well leave thee and suffer 
thee to do thine own deeds. 

Draw not to thyself the matters of other men and implicate 
not thyself in causes of great men. Have thine eye first 
upon thyself and admonish thyself spiritually before all 
others whom thou lovest best. 

If thou have not the favour of men be not sorry therefore: 
but let this be grievous to thee that thou hast (keepest) 
not thyself well and circumspectly as it beseemeth the 
servant of God and a devout religious man to live. 

Ofttimes it is more profitable and more safe that a man have 
not many comforts in this life and specially after the 

The Imitation of Christ 157 

And that we have not or that we seldom feel godly consola- 
tions it is own our fault; for we seek not compunction, 
nor we put not away utterly vain and outward comforts. 

Acknowledge thyself to be not worthy godly consolation but 
rather worthy much tribulation. 

When a man is perfectly sorry then is all the world grievous 
and bitter to him. 

A good man findeth sufficient matter of sorrowing and weep- 
ing; whether he consider himself or think on his neigh- 
bour he shall know that no man liveth here without 
tribulation; and the more strictly that he considereth 
himself so much more he sorroweth. 

Matters of righteous sorrow and of inward compunction are 
our sins and our vices wherein we lie wrapped so that 
we may but seldom behold heavenly things. 

If thou thoughtest ofter on death than thou dost of long life 
no doubt but thou wouldst more fervently amend thyself: 
or else if thou wouldst heartily behold the pains of hell 
and purgatory I believe that thou wouldst gladly suffer 
pain, labour and sorrow, dreading no manner of rigour: 
but because these go not to the heart and we yet love 
blandishings, therefore we remain cold and slow. 

Ofttimes it is need (poverty) of spirit whereof the wretched 
body so easily complaineth: pray therefore meekly to 
our Lord that he give thee the spirit of compunction and 
say with the prophet "Feed me, Lord, with the bread of 
tears and give me drink of tears in measure." 



WRETCHED thou art wherever thou be and whithersoever thou 

turn thee unless thou turn thee to God. 
Why art thou troubled, that all things come not to thee as 

thou wiliest or desirest? who is he that hath all things 

158 Thomas & Kempis 

at his own will? neither I nor you, nor no man in earth; 
there is no man in this world without some manner of 
tribulation or anguish, though he be king or pope. 

Then who is in the best case? forsooth he that may suffer 
anything for God's sake. 

Lord, now there are many weak folk that say "O how good 
a life that man hath; how great, how rich, how mighty, 
how high he is." But behold heavenly goods and thou 
shalt see that all these temporal goods be as none but 
that they be full uncertain, and more grieving than 
easing; for they are never had without business and 

It is man's felicity to have temporal goods in abundance but 
mediocrity suffketh him; verily it is a misery to live upon 
earth: the more spiritual that a man will be the more 
this present life appeareth bitter: for he feeleth better 
and seeth more clearly the faults of man's corruption. 

For to eat, to drink, to wake, to sleep, to rest, to labour, and 
to be subject to the necessities of nature is very misery 
and an affliction to a devout man that would fain be 
loose and free from sin. 

The inward man is full sore grieved with bodily necessities 
in this world. 

Wherefore the prophet prayeth devoutly that he may be free 
from them saying "Lord, deliver me from my necessities." 

But woe to them that know not their misery: but more woe 
to them that love this misery and this corruptible life; 
for there be some that so heartily clasp this wretched 
life that though they may scarce have their necessities 
with labour, yea and with begging, yet if they might 
live here for ever, they would take no heed of the realm 
of heaven. 

O the mad men and out of true belief that live so deeply 
in earthly things that they savour no heavenly things: 
but these wretches yet in the end shall grievously feel 
how nought it was and how vile that which they have 

The Imitation of Christ 159 

But the saints of God and all devout men and friends of Christ 
have not taken heed to that which pleaseth the flesh nor 
to them that have flourished in this world: but all their 
hope and all their intention hath been to things ever- 

All their desire was borne up to things invisible and abiding 
lest by love of things visible they might be drawn to their 
lowest things. 

Brother, lose not thy confidence in profiting by spiritual 
things: yet hast thou time and the hour; why wilt thou 
tarry thy purpose till to-morrow? Arise and begin anon 
and say "Now is the time of doing, now is the time of 
purging, now is the time of amending." 

When thou art ill at ease then say "Now is the time of merit." 
Thou must go through fire and water ere thou come to 

Unless thou do force to thyself, thou shalt never overcome 

All the while that we bear this frail body we cannot be with- 
out sin, nor live without heaviness and sorrow. 

We would gladly have quiet from all misery; but for as much 
as by sin we lost innocence, we lost also true blissfulness: 
therefore we must keep patience and abide the mercy of 
God till this wickedness go away and this mortality be 
swallowed up by life. 

O how great is man's frailty that is prone and ready to vices; 
this day thou art shriven of thy sins and to-morrow thou 
dost like sins again. Now thou purposest to be ware and 
within two hours thou dost as though thou hadst never 
taken such purpose; wherefore we have great cause to 
humble ourselves and never to feel any great things of 
ourselves; for we be so frail and so unstable. 

Also may soon be lost by negligence what is scarce gotten in 
great time by grace. 

What shall happen to us in the end that are sluggish so early? 

Woe be to us who thus wish to decline and rest as though 

160 Thomas d Kempis 

there were peace and safety, since there appeareth yet no 
step of true holiness in our conversation. 
It were need that we should now be informed as young novices 
are in good manners, if peradventure there might be any 
hope of amendment to come or of more spiritual profiting. 



THIS day a man is and to-morrow he appearth not: full soon 
shall this be fulfilled in thee; look whether thou canst 
do otherwise. 

And when man is out of sight soon he passeth out of mind. 

O the dulness and the hardness of man's heart that only 
thinketh on things present and provideth not more for 
things to come. Thou shouldst have thyself so in every 
deed and in every thought as though thou shouldst die 

If thou hadst a good conscience thou wouldst not much dread 

It is better to eschew sins than to flee death: if thou be not 
ready to-day, how shalt thou be ready to-morrow? The 
morrow is a day uncertain and how knowest thou that 
thou shalt live to-morrow? 

What availeth it to live long when there is little amendment? 
A long life amendeth us not always but some times in- 
creaseth sin. Would God we had lived well in this world 
one day. 

Many men count the years of their conversion but ofttimes 
little is the fruit of amendment. If it be dreadful to die 
peradventure it is more perilous to live long: blissful is 
he that hath the hour of his death ever before his eyes 
and that every day disposeth himself to die. 

If thou have seen any man die think that thou thyself shalt 
go the same way. 

The Imitation of Christ 161 

When it is morning think thou shalt not come to the even; and 
when even cometh be not bold to promise thyself the 

Wherefore be ever ready and live so that death find thee never 

Many men die sudden and unadvised: for what hour we think 
not the Son of man shall come. 

When that last hour cometh thou shalt begin to feel all other- 
wise of thy life that is past and thou shalt greatly sorrow 
that thou hast been so remiss and so negligent. 

O how blessed is he that laboureth to be such in his life as he 
desire th to be found in his death. 

These things shall give thee great trust in death perfect 
contempt of the world, fervent desire to profit in virtues, 
love of discipline, labour in penance, promptitude in 
obedience, denying of oneself, bearing all manner of 
adversity for the love of Christ. 

While thou art whole thou mayst do much good: but when 
thou art sick I wot not what thou mayst do: few there 
be that are amended by sickness even as they that go 
much on pilgrimage are but seldom the holier. 

Delay not the health of thy soul through trust in friends or 
in neighbours; for men will forget sooner than thou 
thinkest: it is better now to make provision betimes and 
send before thee some good than to trust in other men's 

If thou be not busy for thyself now, who shall be busy for thee 
in time to come? 

Time now is right precious: but alas that thou spendest it no 
more profitably wherein thou canst deserve that whereby 
thou mayst live everlastingly. 

Time shall come when thou shalt desire one day or one hour 
for thine amendment and thou wottest not whether thou 
shalt get it. 

O my dear friend, from how great peril mayst thou make 
thyself free and from how great dread deliver thyself if 
thou be now always fearful and suspicious of death. 

1 62 Thomas d Kempis 

Study to live so now that thou may in the hour of death rather 
rejoice than dread: learn now to die to the world that 
thou mayst begin to live with Christ: learn now to despise 
all things that thou mayst then go freely to Christ. 
Chastise thy body by penance that thou mayst then have 
certain confidence. 

And, thou fool, why thinkest thou shalt live long since thou 
art sure of no day? 

How many are deceived and against all expectation drawn 
out of the body. How often hast thou heard men say 
"That man was slain with a sword, he drowned, he fall- 
ing from high brake his neck, he in eating suddenly 
waxed stiff, he in playing met his end, another with fire, 
another with iron, another with pestilence, another slain 
among thieves." 

And so the end of all is death and man's life passeth away 
suddenly as a shadow. 

Who shall have mind on thee after death and who shall pray 
for thee? 

Do, my dear brother, now what thou canst do for thou wottest 
not when thou shalt die and thou wottest not what shall 
come to thee after thy death. 

While thou hast time gather riches immortal; think on noth- 
ing but thy soul's health; charge (care for) only those 
things that belong to thy soul. 

Make thyself friends now worshipping holy saints and follow- 
ing their works that when thou failest in this life they 
may receive thee into everlasting tabernacles. 

Keep thyself as a pilgrim and a guest upon the earth to whom 
belongeth nothing of worldly business. 

Keep thy heart and rear it up to thy God for thou hast here 
none abiding city: thither direct prayers and daily 
mournings with tears that thy spirit after thy death may 
deserve blissfully to come to our Lord. 

The Imitation of Christ 163 



IN ALL things behold the end and how thou shalt stand before 
the righteous judge from whom is nothing hid. He is 
not pleased with gifts, he receiveth none excusations but 
that is righteous he shall judge. 

O thou most wretched and unsavoury sinner what shalt thou 
answer God who knows all thy evils, thou that sometimes 
art afeard of the look of a man that is wroth? 

Why dost thou not provide for thyself against the day of 
doom when no man shall be excused nor defended by 
another but every man's burden shall be enough for 

Now thy labour is fruitful, thy weeping acceptable, thy mourn- 
ing is heard, thy sorrow is satisfactory and purgatory 
(purging). He hath a great and a wholesome purgatory 
that patiently receiveth wrongs, that sorroweth more for 
other men's malice than for his own wrongs, that gladly 
prayeth for his adversaries and heartily forgiveth his 
trespassers, that tarrieth not to ask forgiveness of others, 
that more easily forgiveth than is wroth, that doth 
violence to himself, that laboureth in all wise to hold his 
flesh under the spirit. 

Better it is to cut away and purge thy sins and thy vices here 
than to reserve them to be purged in coming time. 

Verily we deceive ourselves by inordinate love of our flesh. 

What other thing shall that fire devour but only thy sins? 
The more that thou sparest thyself now and followest 
thy flesh the longer thou shalt be punished and the more 
matter for burning thou reservest. 

In what thing a man hath sinned in those things a man shall 
be punished. 

There slow men shall be pricked with burning pricks and 
gluttonous men shall be tormented with great hunger and 

1 64 Thomas & Kempis 

great thirst, the lecherous men and lovers of their lusts 
shall be poured on with burning pitch and stinking brim- 

And the envious shall howl for sorrow as mad hounds and 
there shall be no vice but he shall have his own proper 

There proud men shall be fulfilled with all manner of shame 
and confusion: and covetous men shall be straitened 
with most wretched need. There shall one hour be more 
grievous in pain than an hundred year here in laborous 

There is no rest, no consolation to damned folk; here some 
times men cease from labours and are solaced by their 

Be now busy and sorrowing for thy sins that thou mayst stand 
safe in the day of judgment with blissful men. 

Then shall righteous men stand in great constancy against 
them that have anguished them and oppressed them; 
then shall he sit to judge that now subdueth himself 
meekly to the judgments of men; then shall the poor 
and the meek have great trust and the proud man shall 
dread on every side. 

Then it shall appear that he was wise in this world who 
learned for Christ to be a fool and despised, then every 
tribulation suffered patiently for Christ shall please and 
all wickedness shall stop his mouth; then shall every 
devout man rejoice and every unreligious man sorrow. 

Then shall the flesh that hath been in affliction rejoice much 
more than he that hath been nourished in delicates. 

Then shall the vile coat shine bright and the subtle (woven) 
cloth shall be dark. 

Then shall be more praised a poor cot than a golden palace. 

Then shall constant patience more help than all the world's 

Then shall meek obedience be higher exalted than all worldly 

The Imitation of Christ 165 

Then shall a pure and good conscience gladden a man more 

than great philosophy. 
Then shall contempt of riches weigh more than all the treasure 

of the earth. 
Then shalt thou be more comforted by devout prayer than by 

delicate eating. 
Then shalt thou rather rejoice for well kept silence than for 

long talking. 

Then shall holy works more avail than many fair words. 
Then shall straight life and hard penance more avail than all 

earthly delectation. 

Learn now to suffer in a little that thus thou mayst be de- 
livered from more grievous pains. 
Prove here first what thou mayst suffer afterwards. If thou 

canst not suffer here so little things how shalt thou be 

able to suffer everlasting torments? 
If now so little a passion maketh thee impatient, what shall 

hell do then? 
Lo, verily, thou canst not have ij joys ; to be delighted in this 

world and afterward to reign with Christ. 
If thou hast lived until now in honours and in the lusts of 

the world, what could all that avail thee if it happened 

to thee to die in this moment? 
All things therefore are vanity save to love God and to serve 

him alone. For he that loveth God with all his heart 

dreadeth neither death, nor torment, nor judgment, nor 

hell: for perfect love shall make a ready way to God 

and a sure coming. 
He that yet delighteth to sin, it is no wonder that he dread 

death and the judgment. 
Nevertheless it is good that, if love cannot revoke thee from 

sin, at least let dread do it: for he that putteth behind 

him the dread of God may not long stand in good but 

he shall soon run into the Fiend's snares. 

1 66 Thomas & Kempis 



BE WAKING and diligent in the service of God and think oft- 
times why thou earnest here and forsookest the world: 
was it not that thou wouldest live to God and be a 
spiritual man? 

Wherefore be fervent to profiting for thou shalt receive meed 
for thy labours and then shall there no more be dread 
nor sorrow in thy coasts. 

Thou shalt labour now a little and thou shalt find great rest 
and everlasting gladness and if thou abide true and 
fervent in working without doubt God shall be true and 
rich in rewarding. 

Thou oughtest to keep a good hope that thou shalt come to 
the victory; but it is not behoveful to make thyself sure 
lest thou wax sluggish or proud. 

There was once a man in great heaviness ofttimes doubting 
between dread and hope; and on a time, encumbered 
with great sorrow, he fell down prostrate in his prayers 
before an altar in the church. This he thought in his 
mind "Would God I wist that I should persevere." And 
then he heard within himself an answer from God "What 
if thou wist, what wouldst thou do? Do now as thou 
wouldst do then and thou shalt be safe enow"; and anon 
he was comforted and committed himself to the will of 
God and the doubtful fluctuation ceased and he would 
no more search curiously of things that were to come 
but rather studied to inquire what was the well pleasing 
and perfect will of God wherewith to begin every good 
work and perform it. 

"Trust in our Lord and do goodness," saith the Prophet "and 
dwell upon the earth and thou shalt be fed in the riches 

One thing there is that letteth (hindereth) many men from 

The Imitation of Christ 167 

profiting and fervent amending horror of difficulty and 
labour of striving or of fighting. They above all other 
profit in virtues that enforce themselves most manly to 
overcome the things that are most grievous and contrary 
to them: for there a man profiteth and most ample 
grace deserveth where he overcometh himself and morti- 
fieth in spirit. But all have not alike much to overcome 
and mortify. 

Nevertheless a diligent lover shall be more mighty to profit 
though he have more passions than he that is well man- 
nered, being less fervent to virtue. 

And ij things specially help to great amending: that is for a 
man to withdraw himself with violence from such things 
as nature is viciously inclined to and fervently to labour 
for the good that he most needeth. 

Also study most to eschew and overcome those things that 
most fervently displease thee in other men. 

Take thy profiting in every place, so that, if thou hear or see 
a good ensample, thou be fervent to follow it. If thou 
think of anything that is to be blamed, be ware that 
thou do it not. And if thou do it at any time, study soon 
to amend it. As thine eye considereth other folk, so other 
men note thee. 

How sweet it is, how merry it is, to see fervent and devout 
brethren and well mannered and under discipline and 
how sorrowful and heavy it is to see brethren going in- 
ordinately, that practise not those things that they are 
called to; how noyous (hurtful) it is for a man to take 
none heed of the purpose of his calling and to bow his 
wit to such things as are not given him to do. 

Have mind on the purpose that thou hast taken and ever put 
before thee the image of the crucifix. Thou mayest be well 
ashamed, beholding the life of our Lord Jesu Christ, that 
thou hast no more studied to conform thee thereto though 
thou have been long in the way of God. The religious 
man that attentively and devoutly exerciseth himself in 
the most holy life and passion of our Lord, he shall find 

168 Thomas d Kempis 

abundantly all things that are needful and profitable to 
him nor shall he have no need to seek any better thing 
without Jesu. 

O if Jesu Christ come into our heart how soon and how suffi- 
ciently we should be taught. 

The negligent religious and the luke(warm) hath tribulation 
and on every side suffereth anguish: for he lacketh in- 
ward comfort and he is forbidden to seek any outward. 
The religious man that is without discipline is open to 
a grievous fall. 

He that ever more seeketh those things that are most lax 
and most remiss shall ever be in anguish; for one thing 
or other shall evermore displease. How many religious 
men that are straightened under claustral discipline, live 
retired, eat poorly, are clothed boistrously (roughly), 
labour greatly, speak little, wake long, rise early, pray 
long, ofttimes read and keep them in all manner of 
discipline. Take heed of the Carthusians, the Cistercians, 
and monks and minchins (nuns) of diverse religious 
houses how they rise up every night to sing to our Lord ; 
therefore it is foul that thou shouldst be sluggish in so 
holy a work, where so great multitude of religious folk 
begin to joy to God. 

Would God we had naught else to do, but only to praise our 
Lord Jesu Christ with all our heart. 

Would God thou needed never to eat nor drink nor sleep but 
ever praise God and to take heed to spiritual studies: 
but thou shouldst be more blissful than now when thou 
servest the flesh for any manner of need. 

Would God that these necessities were not but that only 
spiritual refections existed for the soul the which alas 
we taste full seldom. 

When a man is come to this that he seeketh his comfort of 
no creature then at first beginneth God to taste sweet to 
him perfectly. Then also he is well content of every 
chance, then he will not be glad for no great thing, nor 
sorry for no little thing, but putteth himself wholly and 

The Imitation of Christ 169 

trustily in God that is to him all things in all things, to 
whom nothing perisheth nor dieth but all things live to 
him and serve him at his beckoning. 

Have mind ever on the end and that time lost never cometh 

Without business and diligence shalt thou never get virtue. 
If thou beginnest to be luke(warm) thou beginnest to 
be evil at ease. But if thou give thyself to fervour, thou 
shalt find great peace and thou shalt feel labour lighter 
for the grace of God and love of virtue. A fervent man 
and a diligent is ready to all things. There is more labour 
in withstanding vices and passions than to sweat in bodily 

He that escheweth not small defaults little and little shall 
slide in to greater. 

Thou shalt ever joy at eventide if thou spend the day fruit- 

Watch upon thyself, stir thyself, admonish thyself: and how 
ever it be with other, forget not thyself. So much thou 
shalt profit as thou doest violence to thyself. 

Here endeth the first party of musica ecclesiastica. And now 
follow the chapters of the ij party. 



OUR Lord saith that the kingdom of heaven is within you. 
Turn thyself to God with all thine heart and forsake this 
wretched world and thy soul shall find rest. 

Learn to despise outward things and to turn thee to inward 
things and thou shalt see the kingdom come into thee; 
for the kingdom of God is peace and joy in the Holy 
Ghost the which is not given to wicked men. 

Christ shall come to thee showing thee his consolation if thou 
make for him within thee a worthy dwelling place; all 
his glory and honour is within and there is his plesaunce. 

His visitation is common and oft with an inward man ; with 
him is his sweet talking., gracious consolation, much 
wonderful familiarity. 

Eh, thou true soul, array thy soul for thy spouse that he may 
vouchsafe to come to thee and to dwell in thee: for thus 
he saith "whoso loveth me shall keep my word and to 
him we shall come and in him make our dwelling place." 
Wherefore give Christ place and as to all other hold 
them out. 

When thou hast Christ thou art rich and it sufficeth thee; he 
shall be thy pro visor thy true procurator in all things, so 
that thou shalt not need to trust in man. Men are soon 
changed and fail soon; Christ abideth for ever and 
standeth steadfastly unto the end. 

Great trust is not to be put in a mortal and frail man though 

he be profitable and well beloved: nor great sorrow to be 

felt though sometimes he withstand thee and is contrary. 

They that are this day with thee to-morrow they may 


The Imitation of Christ 171 

be contrary ; and in contrary wise they be of ttimes turned 
as the wind. 

Put all thy trust in God, let him be thy dread, let him be thy 
love; he shall answer for thee and do well and as is best. 

Thou hast here no dwelling city and wherever thou be thou 
art as a stranger and a pilgrim: here gettest thou no rest, 
unless thou be inwardly one with Christ. 

Why lookest thou about here, since this is not the place of 
thy resting? In heavenly things ought to be thine habita- 
tion and all earthly are to be considered as in a manner 
of passing; for all things pass and thou also with them. 
Look that thou cleave not to them lest thou be taken with 
them and perish. 

Let thy thinking be on the high God and let thy prayer be 
lift up unto Christ without intermission. If thou canst 
not behold high celestial things, rest in the passion of 
Christ and dwell gladly in his holy wounds; for if thou 
flee devoutly to the wounds and the precious prints of 
Christ thou shall find great comfort in tribulation nor 
thou shalt not greatly care for man's despisings and thou 
shalt lightly bear backbiting words; for Christ was de- 
spised of men in this world and in his greatest need 
suffered reproofs, forsaken of his friends and of his known 

Christ would suffer and be despised; and thou wilt have all 
men friends and benefactors? 

Christ had adversaries and suffered shrewd speakers; and 
thou darest complain on any body? 

How shall thy patience be crowned if there come no adversity? 
If thou wilt suffer no contrary, how shalt thou be the 
friend of Christ? Suffer for Christ and with Christ if 
thou wilt reign with Christ. 

If thou hadst once perfectly entered in to the innerness of 
Jesu and hadst savoured a little of his burning love, thou 
wouldst have set naught by thine own profit or harm but 
rather thou wouldst rejoice of reproof done to thee; for 
the love of Jesu maketh a man set naught of himself. 

172 Thomas a Kempis 

A lover of Jesu and a very inward man and free from inor- 
dinate affections may freely turn himself to God and lift 
himself above himself in spirit and there rest joyously. 

The man to whom all things taste as they be, not as they are 
said or thought to be he, is very wise and taught more 
by God than by men. 

He that can go within and praise things without but little, 
he seeketh no place, nor abideth for no times to have 
devout exercises. The inward man soon gathereth him- 
self together for he never poureth himself out wholly 
over outward things. Outward labour hindereth him not 
nor needful occupation of the day, but so as things come, 
so he giveth himself to them. 

He that is well disposed and ordained within, he careth not 
for the wicked and wonderful conduct and bearing of 

Just so much is a man hindered and distracted as things are 
drawn to him. 

If it were well with thee and thou wert well purged all should 
turn for thee to good and profit. 

Many things as yet trouble thee and displease thee, for thou 
art not yet dead to thyself nor parted from all earthly 
things: nothing so defouleth and entangleth man's heart 
as impure love in created things. 

If thou forsake outward comfort thou shalt be able to behold 
heavenly things and ofttimes have jubilation within. 



SET not much by this who is against thee or with thee but 

so do and care that God be with thee. 
In every thing that thou dost have a good conscience and God 

shall defend thee: for him that God will help no man's 

overthwartness shall be able to annoy. 
If thou canst be still and suffer thou shalt see without any 

The Imitation of Christ 1 73 

doubt the help of our Lord; he knoweth the time and 

manner of helping thee and therefore thou oughtest to 

reserve thyself for him. 

To God it belongeth to help and to deliver from all confusion. 
Ofttimes it availeth to the keeping of greater meekness that 

other men should know our faults and reprove them. 
When a man humbleth himself for his faults then he appeaseth 

others lightly and easily maketh satisfaction to them that 

were displeased. 
The meek man God defendeth and delivereth, the meek man 

he loveth and comforteth, to the meek man he bareth 

himself, to the meek man he granteth great grace and 

after his humbling he lifteth him in glory; to the meek 

man he sheweth his secrets and draweth him and calleth 

him sweetly. 
The meek man receiving reproofs or wrong or confusion is in 

peace well enough, for he standeth in God and not in the 

Account thyself never to have profited till thou feel thee lower 

than all others. 



SET thyself first in peace and then shalt thou be able to set 
others at peace. 

A peaceable man availeth more than a great learned man. 

A passionate man turneth good into evil and soon believeth 
evil: a good peaceable man draweth all things to good. 

lie that is well in peace hath suspicion against no man; he 
that cannot be content but is moved, he is shaken with 
many suspicions; neither can he be in rest nor suffer 
others to be in rest. Ofttimes he saith that he should not 
say and leaveth that which were more expedient to do; 
he considereth what other men ought to do and taketb 
no heed to his own charge. 

174 Thomas a Kempis 

Have therefore first zeal to better thyself and then mayst 
thou have zeal to thy neighbour. 

Thou canst well excuse and colour thine own deeds but other 
men's excuses thou wilt not receive. It were more 
righteous first to accuse thyself and to excuse thy brother. 

If thou wilt be borne, bear thou another. 

See how far thou art yet from true charity and meekness the 
which can not be wroth, nor have indignation with no 
man but only with itself. 

It is not a great thing for a man to be conversant with good 
men and mild men: for that pleaseth all men naturally 
and every man gladly hath peace with them that feel 
as he doth; and such he loveth. 

But for a man to live peaceably with hard and overthwart 
men indisciplined and contrarious is a great grace and 
a commendable and a manly deed. 

There are some that keep themselves at peace and have peace 
with others also; and there be some also that neither 
have peace themselves nor suffer others to have peace; 
to others they be grievous but most grievous to them- 
selves. And there be some that keep their peace in them- 
selves and study to reduce other men to peace. 

Nevertheless all our peace in this wretched life is rather to 
be set in meek suffering than in not feeling what goes 

He that can well suffer shall find most peace; he is an over- 
comer of himself, lord of the world, the friend of Christ 
and the heir of heaven. 



A MAN is lift up from earthly things with ij wings they are 
simplicity and purity ; simplicity ought to be in intention, 
purity in affection: simplicity intendeth God, purity 
taketh him and tasteth him. 

The Imitation of Christ 175 

There shall no good deed hinder thee if thou be free within 
from inordinate affection. 

If thou intend not nor seek nothing else but the pleasing of 
God and the profit of thy neighbour thou shalt have 
inward liberty. If thine heart were right, then every 
creature should be to thee a mirror of life and a book of 
holy doctrine. There is no creature so little nor so vile 
but it represents the goodness of God. 

If thou were inward, good and pure, then shouldest thou see 
all things without impediment and understand them. 

A pure heart pierceth heaven and hell. 

Such as every man is inwardly so he judgeth outwardly. 

If there be any joy in this world the man of pure heart hath 
it; and if there be in any place tribulation and anguish 
an idle conscience knoweth it best. 

Like as iron put in the fire loseth his rust and shall be made 
bright: so a man turning him wholly to God is freed and 
taken from sloth and changed into a new man. 

When a man beginneth to wax luke(warm) then he dreadeth 
a little labour and receivelh gladly outward consolation: 
but when he beginneth perfectly to overcome himself and 
to go manly in the way of God then he setteth little by 
those things that before seemed to him right grievous. 



WE OUGHT not to believe ourselves overmuch for ofttimes 
grace is lacking in us and understanding. Little light is 
in us and ofttimes we lose that by negligence. And also 
of ttimes we perceive not how blind we are within. 

Ofttimes we do evil, and worse we excuse it. 

Ofttimes we be moved (to anger) and think that it is zeal. 

We reprove small things in others and pass over our own faults 
that are greater. 

1 76 Thomas & Kempis 

We feel and weigh soon enough what we suffer from others: 
but how much others suffer from us, of this we take no 

He that would ponder well and truly his own faults he should 
find naught to judge in others grievously. An inward man 
before all other things taketh care of himself and he 
that diligently taketh heed of himself holdeth his peace 
of others. Thou shalt never be an inward and devout 
man unless thou keep silence of other men and specially 
behold thyself. If thou take heed only to God and to 
thyself what thou perceivest outside thee shall little move 

Where art thou when thou art not present to thyself? And 
when thou hast run over all things, taking no heed of 
thyself, what hast thou profited? 

If thou wilt have peace and very unity thou must set all aside 
and only have thyself before thine eyes; and then thou 
shalt profit much if thou keep holiday and rest from 
every temporal care. 

Thou shalt greatly fail if thou set great store by any temporal 
thing. Let nothing be great or high or acceptable to thee 
but purely God. All things deem as vain comfort that 
come from any creature the soul that loveth God, let 
her despise all things but God alone. 

God alone, everlasting and great, without any measure, ful- 
filling all things; he is the solace of man's soul and true 
gladness of heart. 



THE joy of a good man is the witness of a good conscience: 
have a good conscience and thou shalt ever have gladness. 

A good conscience may bear right many (very many) things 
and is right glad among adversities: an evil conscience 
is ever dreadful and out of quiet. 

The Imitation of Christ 177 

Thou shalt rest sweetly if thine heart reprehend thee not. 

Be not glad but when thou hast done well. 

Evil men have never true gladness nor never feel inward 
peace; for as our Lord saith there is no peace to wicked 
men; and if they say "we are in peace, there shall none 
evils come upon us" believe them not, for the wrath of 
God shall arise suddenly and their deeds shall be brought 
to naught and their thoughts shall perish. 

For a man to rejoice in tribulation is not grievous to him 
who loves; for so to joy is to joy in the cross of Christ. 

Short is the glory that is given and taken by men; and sorrow 
followeth ever the glory of the world. 

The glory of good men is in their conscience and not in the 
mouths of men. 

The gladness of righteous men is of God and in God: and 
their joy is of truth. 

He that desireth everlasting and true glory setteth no care 
on that which is temporal: and he that seeketh not tem- 
poral glory but despiseth it from his heart he must needs 
love heavenly glory. He hath great tranquillity of heart- 
that setteth nothing by praisings or Warnings. 

He whose conscience is clean, he will soon be content and 
pleased. Thou art not the holier though thou be praised 
nor the more vile though thou be blamed or dispraised. 

What thou art, that thou art; that God knoweth thee to be 
and thou canst be said to be no greater. 

If thou take heed what thou art within thou shalt not reck 
what men say of thee: man looketh on the visage and 
God on the heart; man considereth the deeds and God 
praiseth the thoughts. 

For a man ever to do well and to hold (think) little of him- 
self is token of a meek soul. 

For a man not to wish to be comforted by any creature is a 
token of great purity and of inward trust. 

He that seeketh no outward witness for himself, it appeareth 
openly that he hath committed himself all wholly to God: 

178 Thomas A Kempis 

for (as the apostle saith) he that commendeth himself is 
not approved but only he whom God commendeth. 
The state of the inner man is to walk with God and to be held 
by no outward affection. 



BLISSFUL is he that understandeth what it is to love Jesu and 

to despise himself for Jesu. 
It behoveth thee to forsake all things for the loved one, for 

Jesu would be loved alone above all things: the love of 

a creature is failing and unstable; the love of Jesu is 

true and persevering. 

He that cleaveth to a creature shall fall with the sliding crea- 
ture; he that clippeth (embraceth) Jesu shall be made 

steadfast forever. 
Love him and hold him fast as a friend which, when all goeth 

away, shall not forsake thee nor shall not suffer thee to 

perish at the end. 
From all things thou must be departed some time whether 

thou wilt or not. Hold thee with Jesu living and dying 

and commit thee to his trust, who, all other failing, alone 

may help thee. 
Thy beloved is of such nature that he will admit no stranger, 

but he alone will have thy heart and there sit as a king 

on his own throne. 
If thou couldest well free thee from every creature Jesu would 

gladly dwell with thee. 
Thou shalt find almost all lost whatever trust thou settest in 

creatures: trust not nor lean not upon a windy reed: 

for every flesh is grass and all his glory shall fall as the 

flower of grass. 
Thou shalt soon be deceived if thou look only to the outer 

appearance of men. If thou seek thy solace and thy lucre 

in others, thou shalt of ttimes find hindrances to thee. 

The Imitation of Christ 179 

If thou seek Jesu in all things, thou shalt find Jesu; and if 
thou seek thyself thou shalt find thyself but to thine 
own harm. 

A man hurteth himself more, if he seeketh not Jesu, than 
all the world and all his adversaries can hurt him. 



WHEN Jesu is nigh all goodness is nigh and nothing seemeth 

hard: but when Jesu is not nigh all things are hard. 
When Jesu speaketh not within, the comfort is of little price; 

but if Jesu speak one word, there is found great comfort. 
Did not Mary Mawdeleyn rise out of her place wherein she 

wept, anon as Martha said "Our master is nigh and 

calleth thee?" 
Blissful is that man whom, when Jesu cometh, he calleth from 

tears to the joy of the spirit. 
How dry and how hard thou art without Jesu ; how unsavoury, 

how vain, if thou covet anything without Jesu; whether 

is it not more harm than if thou lost all the world? 
What may the world avail thee without Jesu? to be without 

Jesu is a grievous hell and to be with Jesu is a sweet 


If Jesu be with thee there may no enemy hurt thee. 
He that fmdeth Jesu findeth a good treasure, yea, good above 

all good; and he that loseth Jesu he loseth over much 

and more than if he lost all that world. 
It is a great craft for a man to be conversant with Jesu; and 

to know how to hold Jesu is a great prudence. 
Be meek and peaceable and Jesu shall be with thee: be devout 

and restful and Jesu shall abide with thee; thou mayest 

soon chase out Jesu and lose his grace if thou wilt decline 

to outer things; and if thou chase out Jesu and lose 

him, to whom shalt thou flee? and what friend shalt thou 

i8o Thomas a Kempis 

seek? Without a friend thou canst not well live, and save 
Jesu be thy friend before all other, thou shalt be over 
sorry and over desolate: wherefore thou dost foolishly 
if thou trust or art glad in any other. 

It is more to be chosen for a man to have all the world con- 
trary to him than to have Jesu offended. 

Among all therefore that are dear to thee, let Jesu be solely 
thy darling and thy special (friend). 

Let all men be loved for Jesu and Jesu for himself. 

Only Jesu Christ is singly to be loved, who only is found good 
and true before all other friends; for him and in him 
let both friends and enemies be dear to thee ; and for all 
them he is to be prayed that they may know him and 
love him. 

Desire never to be singularly praised or loved for that be- 
longeth to God alone that hath none like him. 

Nor desire not that any man be occupied in his mind about 
love of thee nor be not thou occupied about no other 
love: be pure and free within, without impediment or 
encumbrance of any creature. 

Thou must be bare and bear to God a pure heart if thou wilt 
taste and see how sweet God is: and verily thereto shalt 
thou never come unless thou be prevented and nourished 
with his grace, that all things being voided and left, thou 
alone be united with him. 

For when the grace of God cometh to a man then is he mighty 
to all things: and when it goeth away then shall he be 
poor and unmighty and as a man left only to scourgings 
and beatings and pains. 

In these things be not thrown down, nor despair not: but 
stand simply at the will of God and suffer all things that 
come to thee praising our Lord Jesu Christ: for after 
winter cometh summer and after even cometh day and 
after tempest cometh clearness. 

The Imitation of Christ 181 



IT is not grievous for a man to set no price as man's solace 
when God is nigh; but it is great, and right great, for a 
man to lack both God's solace and man's and for the 
honour of God gladly to suffer exile of heart and in noth- 
ing to seek himself and trust not to his own merit. 

What great thing is it, when grace comes, that thou be glad 
and devout? for that hour is desirable to all men: he 
rideth easily and merrily whom the grace of God beareth. 

And what wonder that he feel no burden, who is borne of the 
almighty and led of the sovereign leader? 

Gladly we take somewhat by way of solace and hard it is for 
a man to be drawn out of himself. 

Saint Laurence overcame the world with his priest: for he 
despised all things delectable in the world and for the 
love of God suffered benignly the high priest Sextus 
whom he most loved to be taken away from him. 

The love therefore of the creator overcame the love of man 
and he chose the well-willing of God before man's solace. 

So learn thou to forsake for the love of God some dear friend 
that is necessary to thee, nor bear it heavily when thou 
art forsaken of thy friend knowing that at last we must 
all depart each from other. 

It behoveth a man long time and mightily to strive with him- 
self before a man shall be able perfectly to overcome 
himself and draw all his affection unto God. 

When a man standeth upon himself he slideth lightly to man's 
consolations but the very true lover of Christ and studi- 
ous follower of virtue slideth not to consolations nor 
seeketh such sensible sweetness but rather would suffer 
for Christ mighty trials and hard labours. 

Wherefore, when spiritual consolation is given of God receive 

182 Thomas & Kempis 

it with great thanks and understand it to be the gift of 
God and not thy merit. 

Be not proud nor rejoice not too much nor presume not vainly : 
but be the more meek for the gift and the more ware and 
the more anxious in all thy deeds: for that hour shall 
pass and temptation shall follow. 

And when the consolation is taken away despair not anon but 
with meekness and patience abide the heavenly visita- 
tion: for God is mighty enough to give thee greater con- 

This is no new nor strange thing to them that are expert in 
the way of God: for ofttimes in great saints and holy 
prophets hath been this manner of alternation. Where- 
fore one, grace being present, said "I said in mine abun- 
dance I shall never be moved." And, when grace was 
absent, he rehearsed what he felt, saying "Thou hast 
turned away and I was troubled." Nevertheless among 
these things he despised not but prayed God more 
heartily saying, "Lord to thee shall I cry and I shall 
pray to my God." And then he reported the fruit of his 
prayer, confessing himself to be heard of God, saying 
"Our Lord hath heard and hath pity on me and is made 
my helper." But wherein? "Thou hast" he saith "turned 
my sorrow into joy, and clothed me about with gladness." 

If it were done then with great saints, we, feeble and poor, 
ought not to despair, if some time we be in fervour and 
some time in coldness; for the holy spirit goeth and 
cometh after the well pleasing of his will. Wherefore Job 
saith "Thou visitest him betimes or in the twilight and 
suddenly thou provest him." 

Upon what therefore shall I hope or in whom shall I trust 
but in the great mercy of God and only in hope of 
heavenly grace? 

Whether good men be nigh thee or devout brethren or true 
friends or holy books or fair treatises or sweet songs and 
melodious hymns; all these help but little, savour but 

The Imitation of Christ 183 

When I am forsaken of grace and left in my poverty then 
is there no better remedy than patience and denying of 
myself in the will of God. 

I have found no man so religious or devout that feeleth not 
some time withdrawing of grace or diminution of fervour. 
There was never saint so highly ravished or illumined 
but that later or earlier he was tempted: for he is not 
high in the contemplation of God who is not tried for 
God in some tribulation: and tribulation going before 
is wont to be a token of consolation following; for to 
them that are proved in temptations is promised heavenly 

"He that overcometh" saith our Lord "I shall give him to 
eat of the tree of life." Heavenly comfort is given that 
a man should be stronger to sustain adversities; tempta- 
tion also followeth lest man be proud of the gift; the 
devil sleepeth never and the flesh is not dead. 

Wherefore, cease not to array thee to battle: for both on the 
right hand and on the left are enemies that never cease. 



WHY seekest thou rest since thou art born to labour? Put 

thee to patience more than to consolations and to bear 

the cross more than to gladness. 
What secular man is there that would not gladly have spiritual 

consolations and gladness if he might have it for ever? 

for spiritual consolations pass all the delights of the 

world and all fleshly pleasures. 
For all the delights of the world, either they are vain or foul, 

but spiritual delights are jocund and honest, engendered 

of gentle virtues and infused into pure minds by God. 
But no man may use these divine consolations at his own 

will; for the time of temptation ceaseth not for long. 

1 84 Thomas d Kempis 

False liberty and trust in self are much contrary to heavenly 

God doth well in giving grace of consolation but man doth 
evil not giving all to God with thanks: and the gifts of 
God can not flow in on us, for we be ungrateful to the 
giver and we refund not again all to the original well. 

Grace is ever due to him that thinketh worthily and that shall 
be taken away from the proud man which is wont to 
be given to meek men. 

I wish not that consolation which shall take away from me 
compunction; nor do I desire that contemplation which 
shall bring me into elation: for not every high thing is 
holy, nor every sweet thing good, nor every desire pure, 
nor every dear thing acceptable to God. 

I receive gladly that grace whereby I am found the more meek, 
the more anxious, and the more ready to forsake myself. 

He that is taught with the gift of grace and learned (taught) 
with the beatings of its withdrawal dare ascribe nothing 
to himself but rather will acknowledge himself poor and 

Give to God that is his and ascribe to thyself that is thine: 
give God thanks for his grace and to thyself guilt and 
pain known to be due to thee for thy guilt. 

Put thee ever at the lowest and the highest shall be given to 
thee: for the highest can not stand without the lowest. 

The highest saints before God are lowest before themselves; 
and the more glorious that they be, the more meek they 
are in themselves. 

They that are full of truth and heavenly glory are not desirous 
of vain glory. 

They that are grounded and confirmed in God are not proud; 

And they that ascribe all to God whatever good they receive 
they seek not glory each of the other but they wish the 
glory that is only of God; and they desire God to be 
praised in himself and in his saints above all things: and 
to that evermore they tend. 

Be thankful therefore for a little thing and thou shalt be 

The Imitation of Christ 185 

worthy to take a greater: let also the least thing be to 
thee as the greatest and the least of price as a special 

If the dignity of the giver be considered there shall no gift 
appear little that is given of the high God: yea if he give 
pains and beatings it ought to be taken gladly: for all is 
done for our help, whatever he suffereth to come to us. 

He that desireth to keep the grace of God let him be thankful 
for the grace given and patient when it is taken away: 
let him pray that it come again and be ware and meek 
that he lose it not. 



JESU hath many lovers of the kingdom of heaven but few 
bearers of the cross; he hath many who desire consola- 
tions and few desiring tribulations: he findeth many 
fellows of the table and few of abstinence. 

All desire to joy with him; but few will suffer any pain for 

Many follow Jesu unto the breaking of the bread, but few 
unto the drinking of the cup of the passion. 

Many worship his miracles but few follow the reproof of the 

Many love Jesu when no adversity happeneth. 

Many praise him and bless him while they take any consola- 
tions from him; but if Jesu hide himself and forsake them 
a little, they fall into a complaining or into over great 

But they that love Jesu for Jesu, and not for any consolations, 
they bless him in every tribulation and anguish of heart 
as in the highest consolation; and if he would never give 
them consolation yet would they ever praise him and 
ever thank him. 

1 86 Thomas d Kempis 

O how mighty is the pure love of Jesu when it is mingled with 
no love of self nor profit of self. 

Whether all they that always seek consolations are not to be 
called mercenaries and hired men? 

Whether are they not proved lovers of themselves and not of 
Christ who think of their own lucre and profit? where 
is found one that will serve God freely? 

Seldom shall there be any man found so spiritual that will 
be naked from all worldly things. And who shall find a 
man very poor in spirit and bare from every creature? 
his price is from the uttermost coasts. 1 

If a man give all his substance, it is as naught; and if he do 
great penance yet it is but little; and if he apprehend 
all manner of science yet is he far: and if he have great 
virtue and right fervent devotion, yet him lacketh much; 
but one thing is sovereignly necessary to him. What is 
that? that, all things forsaken, he forsake himself and 
go wholly out of himself and retain nothing of self-love. 

When he hath done all things that he knoweth how to do let 
him feel himself to have done naught. 

Let him not weigh as great all that may be esteemed great; 
but let him in truth pronounce himself an unprofitable 
servant, as the truth saith "when ye have done all things 
that are commanded to you say that we are unprofitable 
servants." For such a one may say with the prophet that 
"I am sole and poor" when he beginneth verily to be 
bare and poor in spirit. 

Nevertheless no man is richer, no man is mightier, no man 
more free than he that can forsake himself and all things 
and put himself at the lowest. 

* 1>. As a gem that is brought from far. 

The Imitation of Christ 187 



THIS word "deny thyself and take thy cross and follow me" 
seemeth a hard word to many men: but much harder it 
shall be to hear this word "Go from me ye cursed people 
into the fire everlasting." 

They that gladly hear and follow the word of the cross shall 
not dread the word of everlasting damnation. 

This sign of the cross shall be in heaven when our Lord shall 
come to judgment. 

Then all the servants of the cross that have conformed them 
to Christ in their life shall come nigh unto Christ the 
judge with great trust. 

Why dreadest thou therefore to take the cross whereby men 
go to the kingdom? 

In the cross is health, in the cross is life, in the cross is pro- 
tection from enemies, in the cross is infusion of heavenly 
sweetness, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross 
is joy of spirit, in the cross is the sum of virtue, in the 
cross is perfection of holiness: there is no health of soul 
nor hope of everlasting life, but in the cross. Take thy 
cross therefore and follow Jesu and thou shalt go into 
life everlasting. 

He that bare his own cross is gone before and died for thee 
on the cross that thou shouldest bear thy cross and desire 
to die on the cross: and if thou be fellow in pain thou 
shalt be fellow in glory. 

Lo, in the cross standeth all things and in dying lieth all: 
and there is none other way to life and to very inward 
peace but the way of the holy cross and of daily mortify- 
ing for if thou be dead with him thou shalt also live with 

Walk therefore where thou wilt, seek wherever it pleaseth thee, 

1 88 Thomas a Kempis 

and thou shalt find no higher way above nor surer way 

beneath than the way of the cross. 
Dispose and ordain all things after thy will and thy seeming 

and thou shalt not find it anything but a duty to suffer 

somewhat either willingly or against thy will and thou 

shalt ever find the cross. 
Thou shalt either suffer sorrow in thy body or tribulation of 

spirit in the soul. 
Sometimes thou shalt be forsaken of God and sometimes thou 

shalt be stirred by thy neighbour and, what more is, 

sometimes thou shalt be grievous to thyself. 
And yet it shall not lie in thy power to be eased or delivered 

with no remedy and with no solace; but, while God will, 

thou must needs suffer and bear. 
God willeth that thou shalt learn to suffer tribulation without 

comfort, for thou shouldest subdue all things to him and 

be the meeker for tribulation. 
No man so heartily feeleth the passion of Christ as he that 

suffereth like things. 
The cross therefore is ever ready and over all things it abideth 

for thee: thou canst not flee it, wherever thou run; and 

wherever thou come, thou bearest thyself with thee, and 

ever thou shalt find thyself. 
Turn thyself above, turn thyself below, turn thyself outward, 

turn thyself inward ; and in all these thou shalt find the 

cross; and everywhere it is needful for thee to keep pa- 
tience, if thou wilt have inward peace and deserve a 

crown everlasting. 
If thou bear the cross gladly, it shall bear thee, and lead thee 

to a desirable end, where an end shall be of suffering 

though it be not here. 
If thou bear it against thy will thou makest for thyself an 

heavy burden and grievest thyself more and yet must 

thou needs sustain it. 
If thou put away one cross doubtless thou shalt find another 

and peradventure a more grievous one. 
Thinkest thou to escape what never mortal man might escape? 

The Imitation of Christ 189 

what saint in this world was without cross and tribula- 
tion? Not our Lord Jesu Christ was without sorrow of 
passion one hour in all his life. The evangelist saith "It 
behoved Christ to suffer and to rise from death and so 
to enter into his glory." And how seekest thou another 
way than the king's highway, the cross way? All Christ's 
life was a cross and a martyrdom: and thou seekest to 
thyself rest and joy. 

Thou errest, thou goest out of the way if thou seek other thing 
to thee than tribulation, for all this mortal life is full 
of miseries and marked all about with crosses; and the 
higher that a man profiteth in spirit the higher crosses 
ofttimes he findeth: for the pain of his exile growetb 
more through love. 

Nevertheless this man, thus pained, is not without some man- 
ner of comfort: for he feeleth great fruit grow to him 
through the suff ranee of his cross; for while he gladly 
subdue th him thereto, all burden of tribulation is turned 
into trust of divine consolation; and the more that the 
flesh is thrown down by affliction, the more the spirit is 
strengthened by inward grace. 

And ofttimes he is so greatly comforted and strengthened that 
for desire of tribulation and adversity, for love of con- 
formity to the cross of Christ, he would not be without 
sorrow and tribulation; for the more acceptable he ac- 
counteth himself to God, the more and the greater are 
the pains that he must suffer for God. 

This is not man's might but the grace of Christ that man 
doeth so great things in his frail flesh, that through 
fervour of spirit he can take upon him and love that thing 
which the flesh ever naturally fleeth and abhorreth. 

It is not like man to bear the cross, to love the cross, to chastise 
the body, to bring it to thraldom, to flee honour, gladly 
to sustain reproofs and wrongs, to despise himself and 
to will to be despised, to suffer all manner of adversities 
with harms and to desire no manner of prosperity in this 

igo Thomas & Kempis 

If thou look to thyself, thou canst do no such thing of thyself; 
but, if thou trust in our Lord, strength shall be given to 
thee from heaven, and the world and the flesh shall be 
made subject to thy commandment: nor shalt thou dread 
thine enemy the devil, if thou be armed with faith and 
marked with the cross. 

Put thee therefore forward as a good and true servant of 
Christ to bear manly the cross of thy Lord crucified for 
thee through love. Make thee ready to suffer many con- 
trary things and diverse incommodities in this wretched 
life: for so he shall be with thee wherever thou be and 
so thou shalt find him wherever thou be hid. 

It must be so: for there is no remedy of scaping from tribula- 
tion of evil men and sorrow except that thou suffer. 

Drink the chalice of our Lord lovingly if thou desire to be 
his friend and to have part with him. Consolations com- 
mit thou to God: let him do therewith as it pleaseth him. 

Put thou thyself forward to suffer tribulations and account 
them as greatest consolations; for there are no passions 
of this time worthy to deserve the glory that is to come, 
yea, though thou mightest suffer all alone. 

When thou comest to this, that tribulation is sweet to thee 
and is savoury to thee for Christ then deem it well with 
thee: for thou hast found paradise in earth. 

As long as it is grievous to thee to suffer and thou seekest to 
flee it, so long shall it be evil with thee, and fleeing after 
thee, tribulation shall follow thee everywhere. 

If thou puttest thee forward, as thou oughtest to do, to suffer 
and to die, it shall soon be better and thou shalt find 

Yea, if thou be ravished into the third heaven with Paul, thou 
art not yet sure to suffer no contrary thing: for Jesu said 
"I shall shew him how great things he must suffer for 
my name." 

To suffer therefore remaineth to thee if thou wilt love and 
ever please him. 

Would God that thou were worthy to suffer any thing for 

The Imitation of Christ 191 

the name of Jesu: how great glory should be to thee, 
how great exultation to all the saints of heaven, how great 
edification of thy neighbour; for all men commend pa- 
tience, though few will suffer. 

Thou shouldest gladly suffer for Christ since men suffer much 
more grievous things for the world. 

Know for certain that thou must lead a dying life; and the 
more that a man dieth to himself, the more he beginneth 
to live to God: there is no man apt (fit) to take heavenly 
things unless he submit himself to bear adversities for 

There is nothing more acceptable to God, nothing more whole- 
some to thee in this world than gladly to suffer for Christ: 
and if it lay in thy choice, thou shouldest rather desire 
to suffer contrary things for Christ than to be refreshed 
with many consolations: for thou wouldest be more like 
unto Christ and be more conformed to all saints. 

For our merit and the profiting of our estate standeth not in 
sweetness and consolations but rather in suffering of 
grievous things and tribulations: for if there had been 
any thing more better or more profitable to man than to 
suffer, Christ would verily have shown it by word and 
example: but he exhorted all his disciples and all them 
that desired to follow him openly to bear the cross say- 
ing "Who that will come after me, let him deny himself 
and take his cross and follow me." 

All things therefore being read over and searched, be this 
the final conclusion, that by many tribulations it be- 
hoveth us to enter into the kingdom of heaven. 

Here end the admonitions drawing inward. And here follow 
the chapters of the third book that is of inward consola- 



I SHALL hear what our Lord Christ speaketh in me. Blissful 
is that soul that heareth our Lord speaking in him and 
taketh from his mouth the word of consolation. Blessed 
be those ears that receive of God's rounding (whisper) 
and take no heed of the rounding of this world. Plainly 
those ears are blessed that take no heed to the outward 
sounding voice but to the truth teaching inwardly. 
Blessed be those eyes that are closed to earthly things 
and attend to the inward things. Blessed are they that 
pierce inward things and study to make themselves ready 
by daily exercises more and more to take heavenly se- 
crets. Blissful are they that desire to take heed to God 
and cast themselves out from all impediments of the 

Take heed hereto, my soul, and close up the doors of thy 
sensuality (senses) that thou mayst hear what thy Lord 
God speaketh in thee. Thus saith thy well beloved, Thine 
help am I, thy peace, and thy life: keep thee with me 
and thou shalt find peace. Leave all transitory things 
and seek everlasting. What are all temporal things but 
deceivers and what avail all creatures if thou be forsaken 
of thy creator? All other things therefore set aside, yield 
thyself pleasant and true to thy creator that thou mayst 
win very felicity. 

The Imitation of Christ 193 



SPEAK Lord for thy servant heareth. I am thy servant: give 
me understanding that I may know thy testimonies. Bow 
my heart to the words of thy mouth; let thy speech flow 
as sweet dew. 

The children of Israel said on a time to Moses "Speak thou 
to us and we shall hear thee: let not our Lord speak lest 
we die." 

Lord, Lord, not so; I pray not so, but rather with Samuel 
the prophet, meekly and affectionately I beseech thee 
"Speak thou, Lord, for thy servant heareth." 

Let therefore Moses not speak to me, nor none of the 
prophets: but speak thou rather, Lord God, inspirer and 
illuminer of prophets; for thou alone without them mayst 
teach me perfectly: but they without thee shall nothing 
profit. They may sound words well but they give no 
spirit. They say passingly fair, but, if thou speak not, 
they set nothing afire. They take us to the letter, but thou 
openest the wit (meaning). They bring forth mysteries 
but thou makest open the understanding of the secrets. 
They tell out commandments but thou helpest us to per- 
form them. They show the way but thou makest us 
strong to go. They work all without, but thou teachest 
and illuminest the hearts. They water from without, but 
thou givest increase. They cry with words, but to the 
hearing thou givest understanding. Let not therefore 
Moses speak to me but thou, my Lord God, everlasting 
truth: lest I die and be made unfruitful, lest I be only 
admonished outwardly and not set afire inwardly. 

Therefore, lest the word heard and not done be to me my 
judgment, or the word known and not loved, or the word 
believed and not kept, speak thou, Lord, for thy servant 
heareth. Thou hast words of life everlasting; speak to 

194 Thomas a Kempis 

me to some manner of comfort to my soul and to the 
amendment of my life; and to thee Lord be praise, glory, 
and everlasting honour. 



SON, hear my words most sweet and passing the cunning of 
all the philosophers and all the wise men of this world. 
My words are spirit and life: they are not to be peised 
(weighed) with man's wits. 

They be not to be turned to vain pleasure but to be heard in 
silence and to be taken with meekness and great desire. 

And I said: Blissful is he whom thou hast learned and hast 
taught him of thy law that thou may make him a mitiga- 
tion from evil days that the earth be not desolate. 

I, saith our Lord, have taught the prophets from the begin- 
ning and until now I cease not to speak to all but many 
be hard and deaf to my voice, many more gladly hear 
the world than God: they follow more lightly the appe- 
tite of their flesh than the good pleasure of God. 

The world promiseth temporal things and little things and is 
served with great greediness: and I promise most high 
things and everlasting and mortal men's hearts wax 

Who serveth and obeyeth me in all things as men serve the 
world and its lords? The sea said, "Be ashamed, Sidon"; 
and if thou ask the cause, hear why. For a little prebend 
men run a long way; but for everlasting life scarce the 
foot is once lift up from the earth. 

A thing of little price is busily sought: other whiles men strive 
for one penny right shamefully; men dread not to weary 
themselves night and day for a vain thing, for a little 
promise. But, alas, for good incommutable, for need 

The Imitation of Christ 195 

inestimable, for sovereign honour, for endless glory men 

will not suffer the least weariness. 
Be ashamed therefore thou sluggish and complaining servant 

that they are more ready for perdition than thou for 

life; they joy more at vanity than thou at truth. 
And lo, ofttimes they are defrauded of their hope: but my 

promise deceiveth no man; nor leaveth no man void 

that trusteth me. 
That I have promised, I shall give: that I have said I shall 

fulfil, so that a man abide true in my love until the end. 
I am rewarder of all good men and a mighty prover of all 

devout men. Write my words in thine heart and treat 

them diligently for in time of tribulation they shall be 

full necessary. That that thou knowest not when thou 

readest, thou shalt truly know in time of visitation. 
I am wont in two manners to visit my chosen children that 

is to say with temptation and consolation. 
And every day I read them two lessons: one in blaming their 

vices, another exhorting them to everlasting virtues. 
He that heareth my words and despiseth them hath that shall 

doom (judge) him in the last day. 



MY LORD God all my goods thou art: and who am I that dare 
speak to thee? I am thy most poor servant, and an abject 
worm much poorer and more contemptible than I can 
or dare say. Nevertheless have mind that I am naught 
worth. Thou alone art good, righteous and holy: thou 
canst do all things: thou givest all things, thou fillest all 
things leaving void the sinner. Bring to mind thy pity 
and fulfil mine heart with thy grace for thou wilt not 
that thy work should be void. How may I suffer myself 
in this wretched life, unless thou comfort me with thy 

196 Thomas & Kempis 

mercy and thy grace? Lord, turn not away thy face 
from me: prolong not thy visitation; withdraw not thy 
consolation, lest my soul be as earth without water to 
thee. Lord teach me to do thy will; teach me to live 
worthily and meekly for thee; for thou art my wisdom, 
thou knowest me truly and knewest me or ever the world 
were made and or ever I were born in the world. 



SON, go before me in truth, and in simplicity of heart seek 
me ever. He that goeth before me in truth shall be made 
sure from evil availings and truth shall deliver him from 
deceivers and from detractions of wicked men. If truth 
deliver thee thou shalt be verily free and thou shalt not 
reck of men's vain words. 

Lord it is true that thou sayest: and, as thou sayest, so I 
beseech thee may it be with me. Let thy truth teach me, 
thy truth keep me and bring me to an healthful end. 

Let her deliver me from all evil affection and inordinate lov- 
ing and I shall go with thee in great liberty of heart. 

Truth saith, I shall teach thee those things that are right and 
pleasant to me. 

Think on thy sins with great displeasure and mourning and 
never account thyself anything for any good works. 
Verily a sinner thou art and encumbered and wrapped 
in many passions; of thyself ever thou drawest to naught; 
soon thou slidest, soon thou art overcome, soon thou art 

Thou hast nothing whereof thou mayst rejoice thee but many 
things thou hast whereof thou oughtest to set little by 
thyself; for thou are more sick than thou canst conceive. 

Wherefore let nothing seem great to thee of all things that 

The Imitation of Christ 197 

them doest, nothing precious, nothing wonderful; let 
nothing appear to thee worthy any reputation, for verily 
there is none other thing here laudable or desirable but 
that which is everlasting. 

And above all things let everlasting truth please thee; let 
ever thy great vileness and unworthiness displease thee. 

Dread nothing so much, blame nor flee nothing so much, as 
thy vices and thy sins the which ought to displease thee 
more than any worldly harm. 

Some go not clearly before me but they be led with all manner 
of curiosity and arrogance, willing to know my secrets 
and to understand the high things of God, taking no heed 
of themselves and of their souls' health. 

These folk, being displeased, ofttimes fall into great tempta- 
tions for their pride and their curiosity. 

Dread the judgments of God, be aghast of the wrath of him 
that is almighty. 

Discuss not the works of the highest God: but search thy 
wickedness, in how many things thou hast trespassed 
and how many good deeds thou hast negligently left. 

Some bear their devotion alone in their looks, some in images, 
some in outward signs and figures: some have me in 
mouth but little is there in the heart. 

There be other that being illumined in the understanding and 
purged in affection, desire laboriously things everlasting, 
grieving to hear of earthly things: they serve the neces- 
sities of nature with great sorrow; and these feel what 
the spirit of truth speaketh in them for he teacheth them 
to love heavenly things, to set no price by the world and 
day and night to desire heaven. 

198 Thomas & Kempis 



I BLESS thee, heavenly father, the father of my Lord Jesu 
Christ for thou vouchest safe to have mind on me most 

father of mercies and God of all consolation I thank thee 

that refreshest me with thy consolations, me that am 
unworthy all manner of comfort. 

1 bless thee ever and glorify thee with thine only begotten 

Son and the Holy Ghost the comforter into worlds of 
worlds (for ever and ever). 

Ah, my Lord God, my holy lover, when thou shalt come into 
my heart all my inwards shall joy. Thou art my glory 
and the exultation of mine heart; thou art mine hope 
and my refuge in the day of my tribulation. But for that 
I am feeble in love and imperfect in virtue, therefore I 
have need to be comforted of thee. 

Wherefore visit me Lord ofttimes and inform me with holy 
discipline. Deliver me from mine evil passions, heal mine 
heart from all inordinate affections; that I, inwardly 
healed and well purged, may be apt to love, mighty to 
suffer, stable to persevere. 

Love is a great thing, a great good in every wise; it alone 
maketh light every heavy thing and beareth evenly every 
uneven thing: for it beareth burden without burden and 
every bitter thing it maketh sweet and savoury. 

The noble love of Jesu stirreth to do great things and ever 
enticeth to desire more perfect things. Love will be above, 
not retained with any low things. Love will be free and 
alienate from all worldly affection lest his inward be- 
holding be let (hindered) lest he be wrapped in and 
encumbered by any temporal commodity or fall under 
(disappear) by any incommodity. 

The Imitation of Christ 199 

There is nothing sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing 
higher, nothing broader, nothing more jocund, nothing 
fuller, nothing better in heaven nor in earth; for love is 
born of God nor it may not rest but in God above all 

The lover flieth, runneth and is glad; he is free and is not 
holden. Love giveth all things for all things and it hath 
all things in all things; for it resteth above all things in 
one sovereign good of whom all good floweth and pro- 
ceedeth. It looketh not to the gifts but turneth itself to 
the giver above all goods. Love of ttimes knows no meas- 
ure but is fervent above all measure. 

Love feeleth no burden, it accounteth no labour, it desireth 
more than it may attain, it complaineth never of impos- 
sibility, for it deemeth itself mighty to all things, and 
all things be lawful to it. It is valiant therefore to all 
things, it fulfilleth many things and bringeth them to 
effect where he that loveth not faileth and lieth still. 

Love waketh; and, sleeping, it sleepeth not; love wearied is 
not weary, and love constrained is not constrained; it, 
afeard, is not troubled; but as a quick flame and a burn- 
ing brand, he bursteth upwards and passeth surely (safe) , 
He that loveth knoweth what this voice crieth. A great 
cry in the ears of God is that burning affection of soul 
that saith "My God, my love, thou art all mine and I 

Dilate me in love that I may learn to taste with the inward 
mouth of mine heart how sweet it is to love and in love 
to melt and to swim. Be I held with love going above 
myself for excellent fervour and astonishment. May I 
sing a song of love, may I follow thee my love into the 
height and let my soul fail in thy praise, jubilee-ing for 

Let me love thee more than myself and myself only for thee 
and all in thee that verily love thee as the law of love 
commandeth shining out of thee. 

2OO Thomas a Kempis 

Love is swift, pure, holy, jocund, merry, strong, patient, true, 
prudent, long-abiding, manly and never seeking himself. 
Where any man seeketh himself, there anon he falleth 
from love. 

Love is circumspect, meek and right, not soft, not light, not 
intending to vain things, sober, chaste, stable, restful, 
kept in all wits (senses) devout to God and mankind. 

Love is subject and obedient to prelates, vile and despicable 
to himself, trusting ever in God, yea when God savoureth 
him not, for without sorrow men live not in love. 

He that is not ready to suffer all things and to stand at the 
will of his beloved, is not worthy to be called a lover. It 
behove th the lover gladly to clip (grasp) to himself all 
manner hard things and bitter things for his beloved and 
not to bow (turn) from him for any contrary things that 
happen to fall. 



SON, yet art thou not a mighty and a prudent lover. 

Why, Lord? 

For as much as for a little contrariousness thou failest in 
things begun, and over-greedily seekest consolation. A 
strong lover standeth in temptations nor will he believe 
the wily persuasions of the enemy. As I please him in 
prosperity, so I displease him not in adversity. 

A prudent lover considereth not so much the gift of the lover 
as the love of the giver; he peiseth (weigheth) more the 
affection than the value and setteth all the gifts far be- 
neath the beloved. The noble lover resteth not in the 
gift but in me above all gifts. 

It is not therefore all lost, though some times thou feelest not 
so well of me and of my saints as thou wouldest. That 
good and sweet affection, that thou perceivest sometimes, 
is an effect of grace and a manner of foretaste of the 

The Imitation of Christ 201 

heavenly country upon which it is not good to lean over- 
much, for it goeth and cometh. 

For a man to fight against the evil moving of the soul and to 
despise the suggestions of the devil is a token of virtue 
and of great merit. Therefore let no strange fantasies 
brought in by any matter trouble thee; keep a mighty 
purpose and a right intention to God. 

It is no illusion that some times thou art suddenly ravished 
in an excess and turnest anon again to the wonted japes 
(jests) of thine heart: for thou sufferest these unwillingly 
rather than doest them and as long as they displease 
thee, and thou wrestlest against them it is merit and no 

Know well that the enemy laboureth in all wise to stay thy 
desire in good and to make thee void of all good exercise; 
from worshipping of saints, from minding of thy holy 
passion, from profitable thinking of thy saints, from 
keeping of thine heart, and from sad (settled) purpose 
of profiting in virtue; he putteth in many evil thoughts 
that he may cause in thee weariness and horror and may 
revoke thee from prayer and holy reading. 

Meek confession displeaseth him, and, if he may, he will make 
thee to cease from holy communion. Believe him not nor 
take no hold of him though he of ttimes tend to thee gins 
of deceit. Impute it to himself when he soweth evil things 
and unclean. Say to him "Be ashamed, thou unclean 
spirit, and go away, wretch; thou art full unclean, that 
bringest such things to mine ears. Go hence, thou wicked 
deceiver, thou shalt have no part in me, but Jesu shall 
be with me as a mighty fighter and thou shalt stand 
confused. I had liever die and suffer all pain than con- 
sent to thee. Hold thy peace and be still; I will no more 
hear thee though thou labour to molest me never so oft. 
God is mine* illumination and mine help, whom shall T 
dread? If battles be against me mine heart shall not be 
afeard. Our Lord is mine helper and my redemptor." 

Fight as a good knight, and though sometime thou fall through 

202 Thomas a Kempis 

frailty of flesh, resume strength more mighty than before, 
trusting on my more large grace and be well ware of vain 
complacency and pride; for thereby many men be led 
into error and some time they slide into a blindness in- 
curable. Let it be to thee for a perpetual wariness and 
meekness the falling of proud men presuming on them- 



SON, it is more profitable and more sure to thee to hide the 
grace of devotion and not to lift thyself on high, not to 
speak much thereof, nor much to peise (weigh) it, but 
rather to despise thyself and dread lest it be given to 
thee unworthy. 

It is not good to cleave over-toughly to this affection that may 
so soon be turned into the contrary. Think, when in grace, 
how wretched and how needy thou wert wont to be, 
without grace. 

Nor is there only spiritual profiting when thou feelest grace 
of consolation but also when thou bearest meekly and 
patiently the withdrawing thereof when it is denied; 
provided thou then be not slow from study of prayer nor 
let not slide away utterly other works that thou art wont 
to do, but as thou mayest after thine understanding 
gladly do that in thee is and for no dryness nor anxiety 
of mind be not negligent of thyself. For there be many 
to whom when it cometh not as they would anon they be 
impatient or slow. 

Man's way is not ever in his own power but to God it belongs 
to give and to comfort when he will and as much as he 
will and to whom he will, as it pleaseth him and no 

Some indiscreetly for grace of devotion have destroyed them- 

The Imitation of Christ 203 

selves. For they do more than they can, peising (weigh- 
ing) not the measure of their littleness but following 
more the affection of the heart than the judgment of 
reason. And for they presumed greater things than God 
was pleased with, therefore they soon lost grace. They 
were made needy and left as vile that had set their nest 
in heaven, that they, made so meek and poor, might learn 
not to fly on their own wings but to hope and trust under 
my feathers. 

They that be yet new and inexpert in the way of God, unless 
they be governed by the counsel of discreet men, may 
soon be deceived and hurt. And if they will follow their 
own feeling rather than believe others that are experi- 
enced, the end will be perilous, if they will not be with- 
drawn from their own conceit. They that seem wise to 
themselves suffer but seldom to be governed by others. 

Better is it to savour but a little with meekness and little un* 
derstanding than to have great treasures of cunning with 
vain complacency. 

Better is it for thee to have little than much whereof thou 
mayst be proud. He doth not discreetly that giveth him- 
self all to gladness, forgetting his rather (earlier) poverty 
and the chaste dread of God, which dreadeth to lose 
grace that is offered. Nor doth he savour virtuously 
enough that in time of adversity or any heaviness holdeth 
himself over desperately and less trustingly thinketh or 
feeleth of me than it behoveth. For he that in time of 
peace will be over sure of ttimes in time of battle is found 
deject and fearful. 

If thou couldst at all times abide meek and little in thyself 
and measure and rule thy spirit, then wouldest thou not 
fall so soon into peril and into offence. 

It is good that, when the fervour of spirit is conceived, thou 
think what is to come, if the light goeth away; the which 
when it happeneth to fall (happen) think again that 
the light may come again the which I have withdrawn 
for a time to thy warnes (warning) and my glory. Such 

2O4 Thomas & Kempis 

a proving is of ttimes more profitable than if thou haddest 
pleasant things at thine own will. For merits be not to be 
estimated if a man hath many visions and consolations 
or else be wise in the scriptures or be set in high degree: 
but if he be grounded in very meekness and fulfilled with 
divine charity, if he seek in all things purely and wholly 
the worship of God, if he account himself as naught and 
despise himself in truth and joy more to be despised and 
made low of others than to be worshipped, there is merit 
and matter of hope. 



I SHALL speak to my Lord though I be dust and ashes. 

If I account myself more, lo thou standest against me and my 
wickedness beareth witness against me, I may not say 

But if I vilify myself and bring me to naught and fail from 
all manner of proper reputation (thought of myself) 
and make me dust as I am, thy grace shall be merciful 
to me and thy light nigh to my heart, and all manner 
of estimation, be it never so little, shall be drowned in 
the valley of my naughtiness and shall perish for ever. 

There thou showest me myself what I am, what I was, and 
from whence I came: for I am naught and know not 
myself. If I be left to myself lo I am naught and all in- 
firmity. If thou behold me suddenly anon I am made 
strong and am fulfilled with a new joy; and a wonderful 
thing is it that I am so suddenly lift up and so benignly 
clipped (embraced) of thee that with mine own weight 
am I ever borne down low. This thy love doth freely, going 
before me and helping me in so many needs and keeping 
me from grievous perils and delivering me, as I may truly 
say, from evils out of number. 

The Imitation of Christ 205 

In mis-loving I lost both thee and me and in seeking thee 
alone and in purely loving thee found both thee and me; 
and through love I brought myself more deeply to naught. 
For thou, most sweet, dost with me above all manner 
of merit and above that that I dare hope or pray. 

Blessed be thou, my God, for though I be unworthy of all 
goods, yet thy noblesse and infinite goodness ceaseth 
not to do well, yea even to the unkind and the far-turned- 
away from thee. 

Convert us Lord to thee that we may be meek, kind and de- 
vout, for thou art our help, our virtue, and our strength. 



SON, I ought to be thy last and thy sovereign end if thou 
desire verily to be blissful; and through this intention 
shall thine affection be purged that is of ttimes evil bowed 
down to herself and to creatures. For if thou seek thyself 
in anything anon thou failest in thyself and waxest dry. 
Wherefore to me refer all things principally for I it am 
that have given all things. 

Consider all things as welling from the highest and most 
sovereign good; and therefore they are to be reduced to 
me as to their original beginning. Of me little and great, 
poor and rich, draw quick water as from the well of life: 
and they that serve me willingly and gladly shall receive 
grace for (after) grace, but he that hath glory without 
me or is delighted in any private good shall never be 
stablished in very joy nor be delighted in heart but shall 
be let (hindered) in many wises (ways) and anguished. 

Therefore thou oughtest to ascribe to thyself no manner of 
good nor attribute not virtue to any man but all to God 
without whom man hath naught. I gave all and I will 

206 Thomas Kempis 

have all again and with strictness I require thanks. This 

is truth whereby is chased away the vanity of glory. 
And if heavenly grace and very charity enter in, there shall 

be no envy nor contraction of heart: private love shall 

not occupy it, for divine charity overcometh all things 

and dilateth all the might of the soul. 
If thou savour aright thou shalt joy alone in me for there is no 

man good but God alone, that is to be praised above all 

things and to be blessed in all things. 



Now Lord I shall speak again and keep no silence. I shall say 
in the ears of my God, my Lord, my King that is on high, 

O Lord how great is the multitude of thy sweetness to them 
that dread thee. But what art thou to thy lovers? what to 
them that serve thee with all their hearts? Verily the 
sweetness of thy contemplation that thou grantest to thy 
lovers is unspeakable. Herein thou showest most the 
sweetness of thy charity, that, when I was not, thou 
madest me and when I erred from thee thou leddest me 
again that I should serve thee and thou commandest me 
to love thee. 

O thou well of everlasting love, what shall I say of thee? How 
may I forget thee that vouchest safe to have mind on me? 
Yea after that I failed and perished thou hast been merci- 
ful with thy servant above all hope and hast showed 
grace and friendship above all merit. 

What yield I thee again for this grace? It is not given to all 
that, all things forsaken, they renounce the world and 
take a religious life. Is that a great thing that I serve 
thee since every creature is bound to serve thee? It ought 
not to seem to me a great thing to serve thee; but rather 

The Imitation of Christ 207 

this appeareth to me great and wonderful, that thou 
vouchsafe to receive as thy servant me so poor and so 
unworthy and to one (unite) me to thy well beloved 

Lo all things that I have and with the which I serve thee 
are thine; nevertheless, in contrariwise thou servest me 
rather than I thee. Lo, heaven and earth, that thou hast 
made unto man's service are ready and every day do 
that thou commandest them; and that is little; but, 
over that, thou hast ordained also angels to man's min- 
istry; but it passeth all that thou thyself vouchest safe 
to serve man and madest promise to give thyself to him. 

What shall I give thee for all these thousand of goods? Would 
God I might serve thee all the days of my life. Would 
God at least I might suffice to do thee worthy service for 
a day. Verily thou art worthy all manner of service, all 
worship and everlasting praise. Verily thou art my Lord 
and I thy poor servant, that am bound with all my might 
to serve thee and never be weary of thy praise. 

Thus I will and thus I desire and what lacketh me vouch 
thou safe to fulfil. It is a great worship (honour) and a 
great glory to serve thee and to set all things at no price 
with (compared with) thee: for they that willingly sub- 
due themselves to thy service shall have grace. And they 
that for thy most holy love put away fleshly delectation 
shall find the consolation of the Holy Ghost. They shall 
get liberty of mind that enter into the straight life and 
take no heed of no worldly care. 

the acceptable and the jocund service of God whereby a 
man is verily made free and holy. O the holy state of re- 
ligious servage, that maketh man even with angels, 
pleasant to God, fearful to fiends and commendable to 
all Christian men. O the service to be embraced and even 
to be desired, whereby the highest and sovereign good 
is deserved (won) and joy gotten that shall dwell with- 
out end. 

2o8 Thomas & Kempis 



SON, yet thou must learn much thing the which thou hast not 
not learned as yet. 

Lord, what are those? 

That thou put thy desire wholly after my well-willing and 
that thou be not a lover of thyself but a desirous follower 
of my will. Desires ofttimes set thee on fire and hugely 
stir thee; but consider whether thou be moved more for 
my worship or for thine own profit. If I be at the root 
thou wilt be well content whatever I ordain ; and if there 
be anything of thine own seeking that is hid privily, that 
it is that letteth (hindereth) and grieveth. 

Be ware therefore that thou lean not too much upon any de- 
sire before conceived, me not counselled; lest it repent 
thee afterwards and that displease which first pleased 
and which thou heldest for the better. For not every 
affection that seemeth good is to be followed anon nor 
every contrary affection is to be fled at first. 

It is expedient sometimes to use the bridle, yea in good studies 
and desires, lest by importunity thou fall into distraction 
of mind, lest thou engender slander in others through 
indiscipline or else lest thou be suddenly troubled and 
fall by withstanding of others. And thy flesh ought so 
long to be chastised and constrained to be subject in 
servage, till it learn to be ready for all things and to be 
content with few, and to delight in simple things and 
not grudge (grumble) against such things as are not con- 
venient thereto. 

The Imitation of Christ 209 



LORD, as I see, patience is right needful to me for many con- 
trary things fall in this world. For, however I ordain for 
my peace, my life may not be without battle and sword. 

So it is, son; but I will not that thou seek peace and lack 
temptations, and feel no contrariousness; but then deem 
to have found peace when thou art haunted in diverse 
temptations and proved in many contrary things. If thou 
say that thou canst not suffer many things how wilt thou 
then suffer the fire of purgatory? 

Of two evils the less is ever to be chosen: wherefore that 
thou mayst escape torments that are to come study to 
suffer evenly for God present evils. 

What trowest thou that men of this world suffer naught or 
little? Nay thou shalt not find that, though thou seek 
most delicate men. But they have, thou sayest, many 
delectations and therefore they peise (weigh) little their 
tribulations. Be it so that they have what they will; but 
how long hopest thou it shall endure? 

Lo they that are abundant in this world shall fail as the smoke 
and there shall be no more remembrance of the joys 
passed. And yet while they live they rest not in them 
without bitterness, weariness and dread; for ofttimes of 
the same thing whereof they conceive delectation they 
receive pain and sorrow. It falleth to them righteously 
that since they inordinately seek delectations and follow 
them they should not taste them fully without confusion. 
O how short, how inordinate, how false, how foul they 
all be. 

Nevertheless for drunkenness and blindness they understand 
not but as dumb beasts run into death of soul for a little 
delectation of corruptible life. Wherefore, thou, son, go 

2io Thomas & Kempis 

not after thy concupiscence but turn away from thine 
own will. Delight thee in God and he shall give thee the 
petitions of thine heart. 

Lo if thou wilt verily be delighted and more abundantly be 
comforted of me, lo, in contempt of all worldly and in 
cutting away of all lower delights shall be thy blessing 
and plenteous consolation shall be yielded to thee. And 
the more that thou withdrawest thyself from consolation 
of all creatures the sweeter and the mightier comforts 
thou shalt find in me. But first thou shalt not come to 
these without sorrow and labour of striving. 

The old used custom (habit) will withstand thee but it shall 
be overcome by a better custom. The flesh will grudge 
(grumble); but it shall be refrained (bridled) with the 
fervour of spirit. The old serpent will stir thee and bring 
thee to bitterness; but with prayer he shall be driven 
away and with profitable labour his coming in shall be 



SON, he that laboureth to withdraw himself from obedience 
he withdraweth himself from grace; and he that seeketh 
to have private things loseth the common things. 

He that freely and gladly subdueth not himself to his sover- 
eign, it is a token that his flesh obeyeth him not perfectly 
yet but ofttimes kicketh against and grutcheth (grum- 

Learn therefore to obey thy sovereign swiftly if thou will that 
thy flesh shall obey thee; for the outer enemy is sooner 
overcome, if the inner be destroyed. There is not a more 
grievous nor a worse enemy of the soul than thou thy- 
self, when not well according to the spirit. 

The Imitation of Christ 211 

It behoveth thee in all wise to take upon thee very despising 
of thyself if thou wilt prevail against flesh and blood. 
But for as much as thou lovest thyself inordinately there- 
fore thou dreadest to resign thyself fully to the will of 
others. But what great thing is it if thou that art but 
ashes and naught subdue thyself to man for God. 

Since I, almighty and highest, that made all things of naught, 
meekly made me subject to man for thee and was made 
meekest of all and lowest, thou shouldst overcome thy 
pride with my meekness. 

Learn to obey, thou dust; learn to make thyself meek, thou 
earth and clay, and to bow thyself under the feet of all; 
learn to break thine own will and to put thee under sub- 
jection of all. Be wroth against thyself and suffer no 
volowing (swelling) pride to live in thee, but show thee 
so subject and so little that all men may go over thee 
and tread upon thee as upon mire of the street. 

What hast thou, vain man, to complain of? Thou foul sinner, 
what hast thou to answer thy reprovers, thou that so oft- 
times hast offended thy God and so ofttimes deserved 
hell? But mine eyes have spared thee for thy soul 
was precious in my sight; that thou shouldst know 
my love and be ever kind to (grateful for) my bene- 
fits and that thou shouldst give thyself continually to 
very subjection by meekness and bear patiently thine 
own despising. 



LORD, thou soundest thy dooms (judgments) upon me and 
shakest all my bones for dread and trembling and my 
soul is greatly afraid. I stand astonished and consider 
that heaven is not clean in thy sight. If thou foundest 

212 Thomas & Kempis 

shrewdness (wickedness) in angels and sparedst them 
not what shall fall of me? 

Stars fell from heaven, and I, dust, what presume I? They 
whose works seemed laudable fell to lowest things and 
they that ate bread of angels, I saw them delight in 
swines' draff (food). 

Therefore Lord there is no surety if thou withdraw thine hand. 
There availeth no wisdom if thou leave thy governance. 
There helpeth no strength, if thou cease to keep. There 
is no chastity sure if thou defend it not. There availeth 
no keeping if thy holy watching be not nigh. If we be 
forsaken we be drowned and perish; if we be visited we 
are reared up and live. We be unstable but by thee be 
confirmed. We wax luke (warm) but by thee we be 
set afire. 

O how meekly and abjectly it filleth me to feel of myself and 
how naught to set by is any good that I seem to have. 

how deeply I ought to submit myself under thy deep ground- 
less judgments, Lord, where I find myself nothing else 
but naught and naught. O weight unmeasurable, O 
sea in transna table (through which I cannot swim) when 
I find nothing of myself but all naught. Where is the lurk- 
ing hidels (secret boast) of glory, where is the trust con- 
ceived of virtue? All vain glory is swallowed up in the 
deepness of thy judgments upon me. 

What is every flesh in thy beholding? Shall clay rejoice itself 
against him that maketh it? How may he be reared up 
(uplifted) in vain speech whose heart is subject to God 
in truth? all the world shall not rear up into pride him 
whom truth hath made subject to himself: nor shall he 
be moved by the mouths of all his praisers that stead- 
fasteth all his hope in God. 

For they that speak in magnifying themselves, lo, are naught, 
and they shall fail with the sound of their words; but the 
truth of our Lord abideth for ever. 

The Imitation of Christ 213 



SON, say thou at all times, Lord if it please thee, be this thus. 
Lord if this be to thy worship (honour) be this done in 
thy name. Lord, if thou see it be expedient and prove it 
profitable to me, grant me to use it to thy worship: but 
if thou know that it be noyous (harmful) to me or not 
available to the health of my soul take such a desire from 
me: for not every desire cometh of the Holy Ghost, yea, 
though it seem to man right and good. 

It is hard to deem truly whether a good spirit or an evil stir 
thee to desire this or that, or whether thou be moved of 
thine own spirit. Many in the end be deceived, but in the 
beginning seemed brought in (endued) with a good 
spirit. Wherefore with dread of God and meekness of 
heart is to be desired and asked whatever desirable thing 
that cometh to mind principally; for with proper resig- 
nation all things are to be committed to me saying, Lord 
thou knowest how it is best: be it thus or thus as thou 
wilt and when thou wilt ; give what thou wilt, how much 
thou wilt and when thou wilt. Do with me as thou wilt 
and as it most pleaseth thee and as it is most to thy 
honour. Put me where thou wilt and do with me freely 
in all things. I am in thine hands: turn me and again 
turn me round about. Lo I am thy servant ready to all 
things: for I desire not to live to myself, but to thee, and 
that, would God, perfectly and worthily. 

214 Thomas a Kempis 



MOST benign Jesu, grant me thy grace, that it may be with 
me and labour with me and abide with me to the end. 
Grant me ever to do thy will and to desire that is most ac- 
ceptable to thee and most dearly pleaseth thee. Thy will 
be my will and may my will ever follow thy will and ac- 
cord (agree) to it in all wise. Be there to me one willing 
and one not willing with thee; and let me not will nor not 
will but what thou wilt or wilt not. Grant me to die from 
all things that are in this world, and for thee to love to 
be despised and not known in this world. Grant me above 
all things desired to rest in thee and to poise my soul 
in thee. Thou art very peace of heart, thou art only rest: 
without thee all things are hard and out of quiet. In this 
peace that is in the one sovereign everlasting good may 
I sleep and rest. Amen. 



WHATEVER I may think or desire to my solace I abide it not 
here but hereafter; so that if I alone had all the solaces 
of the world and might use all the delights it is certain 
that they may not endure. 

Wherefore my soul thou mayest not fully be comforted nor 
perfectly be refreshed but in God the consolation of 
poor, and the undertaker (supporter) of meek, men. 
Abide a little while, my soul; abide God's promise and 
thou shalt have abundance of all goods in heaven. 

If thou covet then present things over inordinately thou shalt 

The Imitation of Christ 215 

lose the everlasting heavenly things. Let temporal things 
be in use and everlasting things in desire. Thou mayest 
not be filled with no temporal good for thou wert not 
made to enjoy those. 

Yea though thou hadst all goods that are made thou mayst 
not be blissful; but in God that made all things shall be 
thy bliss and thy felicity, not such as is seen and praised 
of foolish lovers of this world but such as good true Chris- 
tian men abide and spiritual men foretaste whose con- 
versation is in heaven. 

Vain it is and short, all men's solace: but that is blissful 
solace and true that is perceived within from truth the 
devout man beareth ever with him his comforter Jesu 
and saith to him, Be nigh to me Lord in every place and 
every time. Be this my consolation gladly to be willing 
to lack all man's solace. And if thy consolation fail thy 
will and just probation be to me as a sovereign solace; 
for thou shalt not perpetually be wroth nor thou shalt 
not threaten everlastingly. 



MY SON, suffer me to do with thee what I will; I know what is 
most expedient to thee. Thou thinkest as a man, thou 
feelest in many things as man's affection persuadeth thee. 

Lord, it is true that thou sayest. Thy business (care) is more 
for me than any care that I can bear (take) for myself. 
He standeth overcasually and like to fall that casteth not 
all his business into thee. So that my will be right and 
abide steadfast in thee do of me what pleaseth thee for 
it may not be but good whatever thou do of me. 

If thou wilt that I be in darkness, blessed mayst thou be; 
and if thou wilt that I be in light, yet blessed mayst 
thou be. If thou vouch safe to comfort me, blessed mayst 

216 Thomas 5 Kempis 

thou be; and if thou wilt that I be troubled, be thou ever 
alike blessed. 

Son, so thou must stand, if thou desirest to go with me. Thou 
oughtest to be as ready to suffer as to joy. As gladly thou 
oughtest to be needy and poor as full and rich. 

Lord I shall gladly suffer for thee whatever thou wilt shall 
come upon me. I will indifferently receive of thy hand 
good and evil, sweet and sour, glad and sorrowful, and for 
all things that fall to me give thee thanks. Keep me from 
all manner of sin and I shall not dread death nor hell. 
While thou throw me not away for ever nor put me not out 
of the book of life, it shall not annoy me, whatever tribu- 
lation come to me. 



SON, I came down from heaven for thy health: I took upon 
me thy miseries, not of need, but for charity for thou 
shouldst learn by patience to suffer temporal miseries not 
grudgingly (grumbling). For from the hour of my birth 
unto the day of my going out of this world on the cross 
there lacked me never suffering of sorrows. 

I had great lack of temporal goods. I heard many complaints 
made of me, shames and reproofs I sustained benignly, 
for benefits I received unkindness, for miracles blas- 
phemies, for teachings reprehensions and blame. 

Lord as thou wert patient in thy life, therein fulfilling the 
commandment of thy father, it is worthy that I, most 
wretched sinner, after thy will should sustain myself 
patiently and that as long as thou wilt that 1 bear the 
burden of this corruptible life. 

For if this life be onerous and heavy yet by thy grace it is 
full meritorious, and by thine ensample and the steps 

The Imitation of Christ 217 

of thy deeds, it is to the feeble and the sick the more 
tolerable and the more clear ; and much more consolatory 
than it was sometime in the old Law, when the gate of 
heaven was yet closed and also the way more dark; for 
as much as so few at that time took any care to seek the 
realm of heaven. Neither good men that paid their debt 
by holy death might then enter into the realm of heaven 
(i.e. before Christ died). 1 

O how great thanks am I bound to yield to thee that hast 
vouch safed to show to me and to all Christian men the 
right way and the good way to thine everlasting realm. 

Thy life is our way and by thine holy patience we go to thee 
that art our crown. If thou hadst not gone before and 
taught us the way who would have taken any care to 
have followed? Alas how many would have abode all afar 
and behind if they had not beheld thy clear ensample? 
Lo yet we wax luke(warm) hearing of so many signs and 
doctrines. What would fall (happen) if we had not so 
great a light to follow thee? 



WHAT is it that thou speakest, son? Cease thy complaining, 
considering my passion and the passion of other saints: 
for thou hast not yet withstood unto shedding of thy 
blood. Little it is that thou sufferest in comparison of 
them that suffered so great things, so mightily tempted, 
so grievously troubled, so manifoldly proved and tried. 

It behoveth thee therefore to bring to mind other grievous 
pains that thou mayst the more mightily and more easily 

1 This is only one of the many passages in which the translator has 
missed the meaning of the Latin. 

2i8 Thomas a K empis 

bear thy small pains. And if they seem not little to thee 
be ware lest thine impatience cause that. Nevertheless 
whether they be small, whether they be great, study to 
suffer all patiently. 

The better that thou disposest thyself to suffer, the more 
wisely thou dost, and the more thou deservest: and the 
more easily thou shalt bear it, thy heart and thy use 
(custom) made ready thereto not sluggishly. And say 
not "I may not suffer this of such a man" nor "I ought 
not to suffer such things for he did me great harm and 
put things upon me that I never thought, but of another 
I will gladly suffer whatever I shall suffer." 

Such a thought is full foolish which considereth not the virtue 
of patience nor of whom she is to be crowned, but taketh 
more heed of the persons and of the offences done to 

He is not very patient that will only suffer as much as he 
will: for the very patient taketh no heed whether he 
suffer of his prelate or of his peer or of his lover (friend) ; 
whether of a good man and an holy or whether he be 
tried by an over thwart (cross-grained) man and an un- 
worthy; but, indifferently, whatever adversity and how 
oft it happeneth from any creature all that he taketh 
acceptably of the hand of God and accounteth that as 
a great gain: for nothing, be it never so little, so it be 
suffered for God, shall pass without merit. Wherefore be 
thou sped and ready for fighting if thou wilt have the 
victory. Without victory mayst thou not come to the 
crown of patience. 

If thou wilt not suffer thou refusest to be crowned and if 
thou desire to be crowned fight manly, suffer patiently. 
Without labour men come not to rest nor without fight- 
ing men come not to victory. 

Lord make possible by thy grace that which seemeth impos- 
sible by nature. Thou knowest, Lord, that I can suffer 
little and that I am soon thrown down with little ad- 

The Imitation of Christ 219 

versity. Make Lord every trial of tribulation to me ami- 
able and for thy name desirable: for to suffer and to be 
vexed for thee is full wholesome to my soul. 



I SHALL acknowledge against myself my unrighteousness. I 
shall acknowledge to thee mine infirmity. Ofttimes a 
little thing throweth me down and maketh me sorry. I 
purpose to do mightily; but when a little temptation 
cometh, I am in great anguish. Otherwhiles, from things 
of little value riseth grievous temptation and while I 
ween myself somewhat sure, for I feel nothing (I.e. hurt 
ing me), I find myself ofttimes overcome through a light 

See therefore, Lord, my dejection and my frailty known to 
thee on every side. Have mercy on me (and snatch) me 
from the clay that I stick not therein nor abide dejected 
on every side. That it is which ofttimes rebuketh me be- 
fore thee and confoundeth me that I am so sliding and 
so weak to withstand passions and though I fully not 
consent yet their vexation is grievous and heavy to m* 
and it wearieth me so to live daily in strife. 

And thereby is mine infirmity known to me that abominable 
fantasies come much lighter than they go away. Would 
God, thou most strong God of Israel, lover of true souls, 
that thou wouldst behold the labour and the sorrow ot 
thy servant, and be assistant to him, to whatever things 
he goeth. 

Strength me with heavenly might, lest the old man, the 
wretched flesh not yet fully subject to the spirit, have 
the better and the lordship, against which it behoveth 
to fight all the while men live in this life most wretched 

220 Thomas & Kempis 

Alas, what a life is this where never lack tribulations and 
miseries where all things are full of gins and of enemies. 
For, one temptation or tribulation going away, another 
cometh ; yea, sometime yet during the first conflict, other 
many come upon me unawares. 

And how may a life be loved, having so many bitternesses, 
subject to so many miseries and mischances? how also is 
it called a life that engendereth so many deaths and pesti- 
lences and yet is loved and sought of many to have their 
delight therein. 

The world is ofttimes reproved that it is false and vain and 
yet it is not lightly forsaken, for the lusts of the flesh have 
too great domination. 

But some things draw men to love them, others to despise 
them. To love these draw, desire of the flesh, desire of 
eyes, and pride of life: but pains and miseries following 
bring forth hate of the world and weariness. But, alas, 
false delight overcometh the mind given to the world, 
and so she accounteth it a delight to be under the briars 
(i.e. pleasure) for the mind hath neither seen nor tasted 
the sweetness of God, nor the inward mirth of the soul. 

But they that despise perfectly the world and study to live 
under holy discipline the sweetness of God that is prom- 
ised to true lovers is not unknown to them and they see 
clearly how grievously the world erreth and how diversely 
it deceive th. 



ABOVE all goods and in all, my soul, thou shalt rest in our 
Lord ever for he is (the) everlasting rest of saints. 

Grant me most loving and most sweet Jesu above every 
creature, above all health and all beauty, above all glory 
and worship, above all might and dignity, above all cun- 
ning and subtlety, above all riches and craft, above all 

The Imitation of Christ 221 

gladness and exaltation, above all fame and praise, above 
all hope and promise, above all merit and desire, above 
all gifts that thou mayst give or pour on me, above all 
joy or jubilation that mind may take or feel; further 
more above angels and archangels, above all the knight- 
hood of heaven, above all things visible and invisible, and 
above all things that thou, my God, art not; for thou my 
God, art best above all; 

Thou alone art highest, thou alone most mighty, thou alone 
most sufficient and most full, thou alone most sweet and 
most solacious, thou alone most fair and most lovely, 
thou alone most noble and most glorious above all things; 
in whom all goods are together and are perfectly and 
ever have been and shall be. 

And therefore it is little and insufficient whatever thou givest 
me beside thyself or revealest or promisest of thyself, 
thee not seen or gotten fully; for mine heart may not 
verily rest nor be fully and all wholly content, if it rest 
not in thee and ever pass thy gifts and every creature. 

O my most sweet spouse Jesu Christ, most pure lover, lord 
of all manner of creatures who shall give me feathers of 
very liberty that I may flee and rest in thee? O when 
shall it be given to me fully that I may take heed and 
see how sweet thou art, my Lord God? when shall I at 
full gather myself in thee that for thy love I feel not 
myself but thee only above all feeling and all manner, 
in a manner not known to all. 

Now ofttimes I mourn and bear my infelicity with sorrow: 
for in this valley of tears there come many evil things that 
ofttimes let (hinder) me trouble me sore and dark my 
mind and distract me and draw me and wrap me in that 
I may not have free coming to thee and that I may not 
enjoy these jocund embraces that are ready for holy 

My sighing and my manifold sorrow on earth must move thee, 
Jesu, the brightness of everlasting glory, comfort of 
the soul going in pilgrimage; before thee my mouth is 

222 Thomas & Kempis 

without voice and my silence speaketh to thee. How long 
tarrieth my Lord ere he come? 

Come to me, his poor servant, that he may make him glad ; 
put (forth) his hand and deliver the wretch from all 
manner of anguish. Come, come; for without thee there 
shall be no blissful day nor hour; for thou art my glad- 
ness, and without thee my board is void. 

I am a wretch and in a manner imprisoned and grievously 
afeared till thou refresh me with the light of thy presence 
and make me free and show me thy amiable visage. Let 
other men seek instead of thee what other things they 
like; for me nothing pleaseth nor shall please but thou, 
my God, mine hope, and mine everlasting health. 

I shall not hold my peace and I shall not cease to pray till 
thy grace turn again to me and thou speak within. 

Lo, I am here; lo, I am come to thee, for thou calledst me 
inwardly; thy tears, the desire of thy soul, thine humili- 
ation the contrition of thine heart they have bowed me 
and brought me to thee. 

And I said Lord I have called on thee inwardly and desired 
to have my joy in thee. I am ready to forsake all things 
for thee. Thou verily stirredst me first to seek thee. 
Wherefore, Lord, be thou blessed that hast done this 
goodness with thy servant after the multitude of thy 

What hath thy servant more to say, Lord, before thee, but 
that he (should) meek himself greatly in thy sight hav- 
ing ever in mind his own wickedness and his vileness? for 
there is none like thee in all the innumerable things of 
heaven and earth. 

thy works are right good, thy judgments true, and by thy 
providence all things are governed. Praise therefore be 
to thee and glory, thou the wisdom of the father; my 
mouth, my soul and all things that are made, praise they 
thee and bless thee. Amen. 

The Imitation of Christ 223 



LORD open mine heart in thy law and teach me to go in thy 
precepts. Grant me to understand thy will and with 
great reverence and diligent consideration to remember 
thy benefits, both in general and special, that I may 
therefore worthily give thee thanks. But I know and 
acknowledge that I may not yield thee thanks for the 
least point. I am less than all thy goods given to me and 
when I think of thy noblesse, my spirit faileth for the 
greatness thereof. 

All that we have in body and soul and all that we have out- 
ward or inward, naturally or supernaturally, all are thy 
benefits and commend thee as a benefactor holy and 
good of whom we have received all good things. And if 
one have taken more and another fewer, yet all are thine 
and without thee may not the least thing be had. 

He that hath received greater may not rejoice him for his 
merit nor be lift up above other, nor despise the less; for 
he is more and better that less ascribeth to himself, and 
in thanking he is more meek and more devout. And he 
that weeneth himself to be more vile and deemeth him- 
self more unworthy than all other, he is more apt (fit) to 
receive greater gifts. And he that taketh fewer, ought not 
to be sorry, nor bear indignation nor envy against the 
richer; but rather to take heed of thee and praise thy 
goodness sovereignly, that so plenteously, so freely, so 
gladly, granteth thy gifts without acceptance of persons. 

All things came of thee and therefore thou art to be praised 
in all things. Thou knowest what is expedient to be given 
to everybody and why this hath more and this less; it is 
not for us to discern but for thee anenst (with) whom 
the merits of all are defined. 

224 Thomas & Kempis 

Wherefore, Lord God, I account it for a great benefit that I 
have not many things the praise and glory of which ap- 
pear outwardly and according to man. So that a creature, 
the poverty and vileness of his person considered, should 
not conceive thereof heaviness, sorrow or dejection but 
rather consolation and great gladness; for thou God 
chosest in this world poor and meek (men) and despised 
of the world to (be) thy familiars and household men. 

Witness hereof are thine apostles whom thou madest princes 
above all the earth. They were conversant (living) in 
the world without complaint, meek and simple, without 
all malice and guile, in so much that they joyed to suffer 
rebukes and wrongs for thy name and what the world 
abhorreth, that they embraced to them with great will 

Wherefore nothing ought so to make glad thy lover and the 
knower of thy benefits as thy will in him and the well- 
pleasing of thine everlasting disposition; with which 
only he ought to be content and comforted, so that he 
will be least as gladly as another will be most and as well 
pleased and content in the lower place as in the first 
and as gladly despicable and abject and of no fame as 
to be more worshipful and greater in the world than other. 
For thy will and the love of thy honour ought to pass 
all things and to comfort him more and please him more 
than all benefits given him or to be given him. 



SON now shall I teach thee the way of peace and of very 


Lord, do as thou sayest for that is agreeable to me to hear. 
Study, son, rather to do the will of another than thine own. 

Choose evermore rather to have less than more. Seek 

The Imitation of Christ 225 

ever the lower place and to be under all. Desire ever to 
pray that the will of God be all and wholly done. Lo, 
such a man entereth into the coasts of peace and quiet. 
Lord, this word of thine is greatly short but it containeth in 
itself much perfection. It is little in saying but full of wit 
and plenteous of fruit. And if this might be truly kept 
by me a light disturbance should not so soon spring up 
in me ; and as of ttimes as I feel me unpleased and grieved 
I find that I have gone from this doctrine. But thou canst 
(do) all things and ever lovest the profiting of man's 
soul. Increase in me more grace that I may fulfil thy word 
and make perfect mine own health. 



MY LORD God be not eloyned (distant) from me: my God, 
behold mine health: for vain thoughts and dreads have 
risen against me, tormenting my soul. How shall I escape 
unhurt? how shall I break them? I shall go before thee, 
he saith, and I shall make low the glorious of the earth: 
I shall open the gate of the prison and I shall reveal to 
thee the inward of my secrets. Do, Lord, as thou speakest, 
and make to flee from thy visage all wicked thoughts. 
This is mine hope and my sole consolation to flee to thee 
in every tribulation, to trust to thee and inwardly to. 
call upon thee and patiently to abide thy consolation. 



CLARIFY me with thy clearness of everlasting light and bring 
out of the habitat of mine heart all manner of darkness. 

226 Thomas a Kempis 

Restrain all evil wanderings and all mighty temptations. 
Fight for me mightily and bear (drive) out the wicked 
beasts, the perilous lusts, I mean; that peace be made 
in thy virtue and might and abundance of praise sound 
in the holy hall, that is in the pure conscience. Com- 
mand winds and tempests, say to the sea Be in rest, and 
to the northern wind Blow not, and there shall be great 
tranquillity. Send out thy light and thy truth, that they 
may shine upon the earth; for I am idle earth and void, 
till thou illumine me. Pour out thy grace from above, 
wash my soul with that heavenly dew, minister waters of 
devotion to water the face of the earth, to bring forth 
good fruit and of the best. Lift up the mind that is 
pressed with the heavy burden of sin, and suspend all 
my desire to heavenly things; that the sweetness of thy 
felicity once tasted, it may not like me to think on earthly 
things. Tear me and deliver me from all passing comfort 
of creatures, for nothing created may fully quiet and com- 
fort my appetite. Join me to thee with an undepartable 
bond of love, for thou alone sufficest to the lover and 
without thee all things are frivols (frivolous). 



SON, be not curious, nor be busy. What is this or that to thee? 
Follow thou me. What is it to thee whether a man be 
such and such or what this man doth or what he saith? 
Thou has no need to answer for others, but for thyself 
thou must yield accounts. Whereto wrappest thou and 
impliest (implicatest) thyself? Lo, I know all men and 
see all things that are done under heaven and know how 
it standeth with every man, what he thinketh, what he 

The Imitation of Christ 227 

will, and to what end his intention draweth. Wherefore 
to me all things are to be committed. 

Keep thou thyself in good peace and let the stirrer stir as 
much as he will, whatever he doth or saith shall fall upon 
him for he may not cj^ceive me. Take no heed of the 
shadow of a great name nor of the familiarity of many 
nor of private love of man; for all these engender dis- 
traction and great darkness of soul. I would gladly speak 
my word and show thee hid things if thou wouldst dili- 
gently observe my coming and open to me the door of 
thy heart. 

Be ready, wake (watch) in prayer and in all things meek 



SON, I said, I leave peace to you, I give my peace to you; not 
as the world giveth so give I. All men desire but all men 
love not those things that long (belong) to true peace. 
My peace is with meek men and mild of heart: thy peace 
shall be in much patience. If thou hear me and follow my 
voice thou shalt live in great peace. 

What shall I do therefore? 

In everything take heed what thou dost and what thou sayest 
and dress (direct) all thine intention to please me alone, 
and out of me (outside me) covet nothing nor seek noth- 
ing. And also of other men's deeds deem nothing rashly 
nor meddle not nor imply (implicate) thee not with 
things that art not committed to thee and it shall be 
trouble to thee little or seldom. For a man never to feel 
trouble nor suffer no heaviness in body nor in soul, is not 
the state of this world but the state of everlasting quiet. 

Wherefore deem not to have found true peace if thou feel no 
grief, nor then all to be well if thou have no adversary; 

228 Thomas a Kempis 

nor (deem) thyself to be perfect if all things be after thy 
will. Nor then account thee great or specially beloved 
if thou be in great delight, devotion or sweetness for 
herein is not known a true lover of virtue nor in them 
profit and man's perfection stand. 

Wherein then, Lord? 

In offering thyself with all thine heart to the will of God, 
not asking those things that art thine neither in little, 
nor in much, nor in time nor in everlastingness. So that 
with one even cheer (face) thou abide in yielding of 
thanks among pleasant things and contrarious, peising 
(weighing) all evenly. 

If thou art so mighty and so long-abiding-in-hope that, all 
manner of inward consolation withdrawn, yet thou 
makest ready thine heart to suffer greater things and 
more, and dost not justify thyself as though thou oughtest 
not to suffer so great things but justifiest me in all my 
dispositions and praisest me as most holy; then thou 
goest in the true and right way of peace and thou mayst 
hope certainly to see my face in jubilation. And if thou 
wouldst come to full contempt of thyself, know that thou 
shalt then enjoy abundance of peace after the possibility 
of thy dwelling place. 



LORD, this is the work of a perfect man, never to release the 
soul from intention of holy things, and among many 
cares to go in a manner without care, not for sluggishness, 
but in a kind of right of a free mind in cleaving to no 
creature in inordinate affection. 

I beseech thee, my most merciful God, preserve me from the 
cares of this world, that I be not too much implied (im- 

The Imitation of Christ 229 

plicated) ; from many necessities of the body that I be 
not taken with pleasures; from all obstacles of the soul, 
that I be not broken and thrown down with heaviness. 
I say not only from such things as the vanity of the world 
coveteth with whole affection but also from these miseries 
that punishingly grieve the soul of thy servant with the 
common curse of mortality and tarry (hinder) it that it 
may not enter into liberty of spirit as oft as I would. 

my God, ineffable sweetness, turn into bitterness all fleshly 
comfort that draweth me away from love of everlasting 
things and wickedly draweth me to itself under colour 
of a present delightful good. My God let not flesh and 
blood overcome me, let not the world deceive me and his 
short glory, let not the fiend with his wiles supplant me. 
Give me strength to withstand, patience in suffering, 
constancy in persevering, give for all worldly consola- 
tions the most sweet unction of the Holy Ghost, and for 
fleshly love pour into me the love of thy name. 

Lo, meat and drink, clothe and other things belonging to the 
body are onerous to a fervent spirit. Grant me to use 
such nourishings temperately, and not to be wrapped too 
much in desires. To cast all things away is not lawful, 
for nature must be sustained, but to seek superfluities 
and such things as most delight, holy law forbiddeth; for 
else the flesh would wanton against the spirit. In these 
things I pray that thine hand may govern me and teach 
me what is too much. 



SON, it behoveth thee to give all for all and for nothing of 
thine to be to thyself. Know well that love of thyself 
noyeth thee more than anything in the world. According 

Thomas a Kempis 

to the love and affection that thou bearest, everything 
cleaveth to thee more or less. If thy love be pure, simple 
and ordinate thou shalt not be captive nor subject to 
earthly things. Covet not that thing that thou mayst 
not have; will not to have that thing that may let 
(hinder) thee and prive thee of thine inward liberty. 

It is wonder that thou committest not thyself to me from the 
ground of thine heart with all things that thou mayst 
desire or have. Why art thou consumed with vain mourn- 
ing? Why art thou made weary with superfluous cares? 
Stand at my well-pleasing and thou shalt suffer no hinder- 
ing. If thou seek this or that or would be here or there 
for thine own profit and for thy more plesance thou shalt 
never be in quiet nor free from business: for in every- 
thing shall be some default and in every place shall be 
that that is contrary. 

Therefore not everything gotten and multiplied from with- 
out helpeth but rather when it is set at naught and cut 
away by the root; which is not only understood of money 
and riches, but of ambition, of honour and desire of vain 
praise; the which all pass with the world. 

The place wardeth but little if thou lack a fervent spirit; 
nor shall that peace long stand that is sought from with- 
out if the state of the heart be vacant of a right founda- 
tion; that is, unless thou stand in me thou mayst change 
but not do better. For, occasion once arisen and taken, 
thou shalt find that which thou fleddest and more thereto. 



CONFIRM me, God, by the grace of the Holy Ghost: and 
make virtue to be strengthened in the inner man, and 
make mine heart void from all unprofitable business; 

The Imitation of Christ 231 

not drawn with diverse desires of anything vile or 
precious but beholding all things as things passing 
and me together with them. For there is nothing abiding 
under the sun where all things are vanity and affliction 
of spirit. 

O how wise is he that thus considereth. Lord, give me heavenly 
wisdom that I may learn to seek thee and find thee above 
all things and above all things to savour thee and love 
thee and according to the order of wisdom to under- 
stand all other things as they be. Grant me prudently to 
decline the flatterer and patiently to suffer the adversary; 
for this is great wisdom not to be moved with every wind 
of words nor to give the ear to evil-blandishing mer- 
maiden; and thus men go surely in the way begun. 



SON, bear it not heavily, if some feel evil of thee and say that 
thou wouldst not gladly hear. Thou oughtest to feel of 
thyself worse things and to believe no man to be lower 
than thyself. If thou walk within, thou shalt not peise 
(weigh) flying words. It is no little prudence to keep 
silence in evil time and to turn inwardly to me and not 
to be troubled with man's judgment. Let not thy peace be 
in the mouths of men; whether they say well, whether 
they say evil, thou art not therefore another man. Where 
is very peace and very glory? Whether not in me? And 
he that coveteth not to please men nor dreadeth not to 
displease men, he shall rejoice in much peace. Of inordi- 
nate love and vain dread groweth all unrestfulness of 
heart and distraction of wits. 

232 Thomas & Kempis 



LORD be thy name blessed for ever that wouldest this tempta- 
tion to come upon me. I may not flee it. I pray thee help 
me and turn it to me into good. Lord now I am in tribu- 
lation and it is not well in mine heart, but I am greatly 
vexed with this present passion. And now, well beloved 
father, what shall I say? I am taken among anguishes. 
Save me in this hour. But therefore I come into this hour 
that thou shouldst be glorified when I shall be brought 
down low and by thee delivered. Please it thee, Lord, to 
deliver me, for I am poor and what shall I do and whither 
shall I go without thee? 

Lord, give peace at this time; help me my Lord God and I 
shall not dread how much ever I be grieved. And now in 
this what shall I say? Lord, thy will be done and I have 
well deserved to be troubled and grieved. It is behoveful 
also that I suffer and, would God, patiently, till this 
tempest pass and better be. 

Thine almighty hand is of power to take away this temptation 
from me, and to assuage his violence that I be not utterly 
overcome, as thou hast done ofttimes with me, my God, 
my mercy; and the harder that it is to me, the lighter it is 
to thee, this change of the right hand of the highest. 




SON, I am the Lord comforting in the day of tribulation. 
Come to me when it is not well with thee. This it is that 

The Imitation of Christ 233 

letteth (hindereth) most heavenly comfort for thou hast 
so late recourse to prayer, for before thou prayest me 
heartily thou seekest mean time many solaces and re- 
freshest thee in outward things. And there-through it 
cometh that all availeth but little till thou take heed 
that I it am that deliver men trusting in me, nor without 
me is any availing, help, or profitable counsel or durable 

But now taking again spirit after tempest wax strong in the 
light of my pity; for I am nigh, saith scripture, to restore 
all things, not only wholly, but abundantly and over- 
heaped. Whether is there anything hard to me or shall I 
be like a man that saith and doth not? Where is thy faith? 
stand steadfastly and perseveringly. Be of long hope and 
a strong man; consolation shall come to thee in time. 
Abide me and I shall come and cure thee. 

It is a temptation that vexeth thee and a vain dread that 
feareth (frighteth) thee. What mattereth busy caring of 
things that are contingently to come, but to make thee 
have sorrow upon sorrow? Let the malice of the day 
suffice to it. Vain it is and unprofitable for a man to be 
troubled or rejoiced of things to come that peradventure 
shall never fall. But it is man's condition to be deluded 
with such imaginations and a sign of a soul as yet little, 
to be drawn so lightly at the suggestion of the enemy. 
For he taketh no heed whether he delude or deceive by 
true or by false, whether he throw down by loss of things 
present or dread of things to come. 

Let not thine heart therefore be troubled nor dread such. 
Believe in me and have trust in my mercy. When thou 
weenest of ttimes that I am far from thee then am I next. 
When thou weenest thyself almost lost then ofttimes 
cometh greatest gain of merit. 

It is not then all lost when the thing falleth into the contrary. 
Thou oughtest not to deem after the present feeling nor 
so to cleave to any heaviness where ever it come from 

2 34 Thomas a Kempis 

and take her so as though hope of scaping were utterly 
taken away. 

Ween not thyself to be all forsaken though I send thee some 
tribulation for a time or else withdraw desired consola- 
tion; for so men go to the realm of heaven. And without 
doubt it is more expedient to thee and to the remnant of 
my servants that ye be exercised with contrary things 
than if all things fell after your liking. 

Lo, I know hid thoughts that it is greatly expedient for thine 
health that thou be left some time without savour lest 
thou be lift up in the succeeding of thy desire and please 
thyself in that thou art not. That I gave I may take away 
and restore it again when it pleaseth me. When I give 
it, it is mine; when I withdraw it, I take not thine, for 
mine is every good thing given and every perfect gift. 

If I send thee any heaviness or any contrariousness, have no 
indignation thereof, nor let not thine heart fall, for lo, 
I may soon lift thee up again and change every heaviness 
into joy. Nevertheless I am righteous and commendable 
when I do so with thee. 

If thou savour aright and behold truly, thou oughtest never 
for adversity to sorrow so deeply but rather to joy and 
give thanks, yea, to account this as for a singular joy 
that I paining thee with sorrows spare thee not. 

"As the father loved me, so I love you" said I to my well 
beloved disciples whom I send not to temporal joys but 
to despites, not to idleness but to labours, not to rest but 
to bring forth much fruit in patience. 



LORD I need yet more grace if I shall come thither where no 
man nor other creature may let (hinder) me. For as long 

The Imitation oj Christ 235 

as any thing withholdeth me, I may not flee freely to 
thee. He desired to flee freely that said "Who shall give 
me feathers as a culver and I shall flee and rest?" What 
is more restful than a simple eye? and what is more free 
than he that desireth naught on earth? 

It behoveth therefore to pass over every creature and to for- 
sake oneself perfectly and to stand in ecstasy of mind and 
see thee creator of all to be nothing like his creatures. And 
unless a man be sped (freed) from all creatures he may 
never freely attend to godly things. 

Therefore there are found but few contemplative men for 
few can fully sequester and depart themselves from 
perishing creatures. Therefore great grace is required 
thereto that may lift up the soul and ravish herself above 
herself. And save a man be lift up in spirit and delivered 
from all creatures and all wholly oned (united) to God, 
whatever he can (knoweth), whatever he have, it is of 
little weight. 

He shall long be little and shall lie beneath that accounteth 
anything great but only one, that is without measure, 
everlasting good: and all save that is naught and foi 
naught to be accounted. There is a great difference be- 
tween him that is Mummed with wisdom and a devout 
man and him that is lettered and studious in science 
called a clerk. That doctrine is much more noble that 
welleth from above of God's influence than that that is 
laboriously gotten by man's wit. 

There are many desirers of contemplation; but they study not 
to practise the things that are required thereto. It is a 
great let (hindrance) that men abide in signs and sensible 
things and take little care of perfect mortification. I 
know not what it is nor what spirit we be led with nor 
what we mean, we that are called spiritual men, that we 
have so much labour and so much business about transi- 
tory things and vile things but of our inwards (inward 
things) we think full seldom, gathering our wits to- 

236 Thomas a Kempis 

Alas, anon after a little recollection we break out and we 
weigh not our works with a strait examination. Where 
our affections lie we take no heed and how impure all 
our works are, this we bewail not. Every flesh had cor- 
rupt his way and therefore followed the great flood. 
Wherefore when our inward affection is much corrupt it 
must needs be that the following action, showing the lack- 
ing of inward strength, be corrupt also. 

Of a pure heart proceedeth fruit of good life. Men seek how 
much a man hath, but of how much good he doth no man 
thinketh. It is inquired if he be mighty, rich, fair, able, 
or a good writer, a good singer, a good labourer, but how 
pure he be in spirit, how patient, how mild, how devout 
and how inward, not many men speak. Nature beholdeth 
the outward things of man, but grace turneth itself all 
inward. Nature is ofttimes deceived, but grace trustetti 
in God, that she be not deceived. 



SON, thou mayst not have perfect liberty unless thou 
deny thyself utterly. All lovers of themselves, covetous, 
curious, wanderers about (are fettered), seeking ever 
soft things and not those things that are of Jesu Christ 
but ofttimes feigning and shaping what may not stand. 
Hold a short and perfect saying Leave all and thou 
shalt find all; forsake coveting and thou shalt find rest. 
Think this over in thy mind and when thou hast fulfilled 
it thou shalt understand all things. 

Lord this is not one day's work nor children's play; but, what 
is more, in this short word is included all perfection of 
Religious folk. 

Son, thou oughtest not to be turned away nor anon to be all 
thrown down when thou hearest the way of perfectness, 

The Imitation of Christ 237 

but rather to be provoked to higher things and at least 
to aspire thereto by desire. Would God it were so with 
thee and that thou wert come thereto, that thou wert no 
lover of thyself but stoodest purely at my beckoning and 
of him that I have put above thee as father. Then 
shouldst thou please me greatly and thy days should pass 
with great joy and in great peace. Thou hast many things 
yet to forsake the which unless thou resign them wholly 
to me, thou shalt not get that thou askest. Wherefore 
I make persuasion to thee to buy gold of me that thou 
mayst be made rich, that is, heavenly wisdom treading 
under foot all these low things. 

Put behind (thee) all earthly wisdom and all thine own com- 
placency. I have said to thee to buy vile things and of 
little price instead of things precious in man's reputation. 
For true and heavenly wisdom seemeth little and of no 
price and almost forgotten in this world, not thinking 
highly of itself nor seeking to be magnified on earth. 
Many preach with the mouth but in living they depart 
far therefrom. Nevertheless it is a precious margaret 
(pearl) and hid from many. 



SON, believe not thine own affection that now is for it shall 
soon be changed into another. As long as thou livest thou 
art subject to mutability, yea, though thou wilt not; 
so thou shalt be found now glad, now sorry, now pleased, 
now troubled, now devout, now indevout, now studious, 
now sluggish, now heavy, now light. 

But above these changes standeth the wise man and well 
taught in spirit, taking no heed what he feels in himself, 
nor on which side the wind of unstableness bloweth, but 

238 Thomas & Kempis 

that all the intention of his mind may profit to the due 
and best end. For so he may abide one and the same un- 
shaken, with the simple eye of intention directed to me 
without ceasing among so many divers chances. For the 
more pure that the eye of intention is, the more stead- 
fastly men go among divers storms. 

But in many the eye of intention is darked, for anon they be- 
hold a delightful thing that appeareth and seldom is any 
found free from the venom of self-seeking. So the Jews 
sometime came into Bethany to Martha and Mary not 
for Jesu alone but for they would see Lazarus. Where- 
fore the eye of intention must be cleansed that it be 
simple and for the right and directed to me alone above 
all variant things that are between. 



Lo MY God and all. What would I more and what more bliss- 
ful thing may I desire? O the savoury and the sweet 
word, to him that loveth the word of the father, not the 
world nor that that longeth to it. 

Lo my God and all: To him that understandeth there is said 
enough and oft to rehearse it is jocund for the lover. Cer- 
tainly, thou being present, all things are jocund and thou 
being absent all things are loth and weary. Thou makest 
in the heart tranquillity, great peace and solemn gladness. 

Thou makest (man) to feel well of all and in all things to 
praise thee nor may there nothing long please without 
thee ; but if anything is to be acceptable and savour well 
it behoveth that thy grace shall be nigh and make it 
savoury with the sauce of thy wisdom. To whom thou 
savourest, what shall not savour to him aright? and to 
whom thou savourest not, what thing may turn him to 

The Imitation of Christ 239 

But the worldly wise men fail in thy wisdom and they that 
savour the flesh; for there is much vanity and there is 
found death. But they that by despising of earthly things 
and mortification of the flesh follow thee be known verily 
to be wise men, for they are translate from vanity to 
verity and from the flesh to the spirit. To these men God 
savoureth; and whatever of good they find in creatures 
all that they refer to the praise of their maker. Unlike 
nevertheless, much unlike is the savour of the creator and 
of the creature, of everlastingness and of time, of light 
uncreate and light illuminate. 

O thou light perpetual, passing all lights created, cast thou 
from above lightning, piercing all the iawards of my 
heart. Purify, make glad, quicken and clarify my spirit 
with its powers to cleave to thee in jubilant excess. O 
when shall that blessed and desirable hour come when 
thou wilt fill me with thy presence and thou shalt be all 
in all. As long as this is not given, there shall be no 
full joy. 

Alas, yet liveth in me the old man; he is not all crucified, he 
is not perfectly all dead : yet he coveteth against the spirit 
and moveth inward battles and suffereth not the realm 
of the soul to be in quiet. But thou that hast lordship over 
the power of the sea and suagest the movings of his 
floods, arise and help me; bring to naught folks that will 
have battles. Knock them down in thy might and show 
thy greatness and be thy right hand glorified: for there is 
to me none other hope nor refuge but in thee, my Lord 



SON, THOU art never sure in this life; but as long as thou livest, 
ever spiritual armour is necessary to thee. Thou dwellest 

240 Thomas d Kempis 

among enemies, thou art impugned on the right hand 
and on the left hand. Wherefore if thou use not on every 
side the shield of patience thou shalt not be long with- 
out a wound. 

Furthermore if thou set not thine heart fixed and firm in me 
with will to suffer for me thou shalt not be able to suffer 
this burning nor come to the victory of saints. It behoveth 
thee therefore to pass (by) all things manly and to use a 
mighty hand against things set against thee; for to the 
victor is given manna and to the coward is left much 

If thou seek rest in this world how shalt thou then come to 
rest everlasting? Set not thyself to (gain) great rest but 
to (gain) much patience. Seek very peace not in earth 
but in heaven; not in men nor in other creatures but in 
God alone. 

For the love of God thou oughtest to suffer all things: labours 
and sorrows, temptations, vexations, anxieties, necessi- 
ties, infirmities, wrongs, obloquy, reprehensions, humilia- 
tions, confusions, corrections, and despites. These things 
help to virtue, these prove the knight of Christ, these 
make the heavenly crown. 

I shall give everlasting meed for a little labour and infinite 
glory for a transitory shame. Weenest thou to have at all 
times spiritual consolations at thy will? My saints had 
not so, but many heavinesses, diverse temptation and 
great desolations; but they bore themselves in all things 
patiently and trusted more to God than to themselves 
knowing that passions (sufferings) of this time are not 
worthy to deserve the glory that is to come. 

Wilt thou have anon that that many men could scarce get 
after many tears and great labours? Abide the Lord, do 
manly and be comforted, and mistrust not nor go away, 
but constantly put forth both body and soul for the glory 
of God; and I shall give again most fully, I shall be with 
thee in every tribulation. 

The Imitation of Christ 241 



SON, cast thine heart on to our Lord steadfastly and dread no 
man's judgment where thy conscience declareth thee pure 
and innocent. It is good and blissful for a man so to suffer; 
nor shall that be grievous to him that is meek in heart, 
trusting to God more than to himself. 

Many men speak many things and to them little faith is to 
be given. And to please all men is not possible ; for though 
Paul studied to please all men in our Lord and was made 
all things to all men nevertheless he accounted it for the 
least thing to be deemed (well) by man's sight. He did 
enough for man's edification and health, as much as in 
him was or he might do; but he could not let (hinder) 
that sometimes he should be deemed (judged) and de- 
spised of others. 

Therefore he committed all to God that knew all things and 
defended himself with patience and meekness against 
the mouths of wicked speakers and of them that think 
vain things and lies and make boast at their own will. 
Nevertheless other whiles he answered lest by his silence 
occasion of offending might have been given to the feeble 
in faith. 

What art thou that dreadest so much of a mortal man that 
this day is and to-morrow appeareth not? Dread God 
and be not afeard of man's dreads. What may any man 
do against thee with wrongs or with words? he noyeth 
more himself than thee, whatever he be. Have thou God 
ever before thine eyes and strive not with brawling 

And if thou for the time seemest to have the worse and 
to suffer shame that thou hast not deserved, grudge 
(grumble) not therefore, nor lose not thy crown by im- 

242 Thomas a Kempis 

patience but rather look up to me in heaven that am 
mighty to deliver from all confusion and wrong and to 
yield to every man after his works. 



SON, forsake thyself and thou shalt find me. Stand without 
choice and without all manner of self and thou shalt win 
ever; for anon, as thou hast resigned thyself and not 
taken thyself again, then shall be thrown to thee more 

Lord, how oft shall I resign myself and wherein shall I for- 
sake myself? 

Ever and in every hour, as in little, so in great. I out-take 
(except) nothing but in all things I will find thee made 
bare: else, how canst thou be mine and I thine, unless 
thou be deprived outwardly and inwardly from all thine 
own will? The more swiftly that thou lost this the better 
it shall be with thee; and the more plainly and clearly 
it is done the more shalt thou please me and the more 
thou shalt win. 

Some resign, but with some exception, for they trust not fully 
to God; wherefore they labour to provide for themselves. 
Some also first offer all but afterwards through a little 
temptation they go again to their own selves and there- 
fore profit not in virtue. Then folk come not to true 
liberty of heart, nor to the grace of my jocund familiarity 
except with whole resignation and daily offering of them- 
selves first being made, without which unity of fruition 
(pure enjoyment) standeth not, nor shall stand. 

I have said to thee full oft, and yet I say again: Forsake 
thyself, resign of thyself and thou shalt enjoy great 
peace. Give all for all, seek nothing, ask nothing again; 

The Imitation oj Christ 243 

stand purely and undoubtingly in me and thou shalt 
have me; thou shalt be free in heart and darkness shall 
not over go (overwhelm) thee. To this enforce thyself, 
this pray thou, this desire thou, that thou may be de- 
spoiled on all manner of self, and thou, bare, follow bare 
Jhesu (Jesus only) and die to thyself and live ever- 
lastingly to me. Then shall end all vain fantasies, wicked 
conturbations and superfluous cares; then also shall go 
away inordinate dread and inordinate love shall die. 



SON, thou oughtest diligently to attend to this that in 
every place, every action or outward occupation thou be 
inwardly free and mighty in thyself and all things be 
under thee and thou not under them, that thou be lord 
and governor of thy deeds not servant, but rather exempt 
and a true Hebrew going in to the lot and liberty of the 
sons of God that stand upon these present goods and be- 
hold the everlasting that behold things transitory with 
the left eye and heavenly things with the right eye: whom 
temporal things draw not (them) to cleave to them but 
they rather draw such goods to serve God well with as 
they are ordained of God and instituted of the sovereign 
workman that leaveth nothing inordinate (unordered) 
in his creation. 

Also if thou in every chance standest not in outward appear 
ance nor with the fleshly eye turnest about to things see* 
or heard but anon in every cause thou enterest with 
Moses to ask counsel of our Lord, thou shalt hear oft' 
times God's answer and thou shalt come again instructed 
in things present and that are to come. 

Moses at all times had recourse to the tabernacle for doubts 

244 Thomas a Kemp is 

and questions to be assoiled and fled to the help of prayer 
for relieving of perils and for mischiefs of men. So thou 
oughtest to fly into the secret place of thine heart beseech- 
ing inwardly the help of God. For Joshua and the children 
of Israel, as it is read, were deceived of the Gibeonites, 
for they asked no counsel first of our Lord but giving too 
much credence to sweet words were deluded with a false 



SON, at all times commit to me thy cause for I shall dispose it 
well in convenient time. Abide mine ordinance thou shalt 
feel profit thereof. 

Lord ; right gladly I commit to thee all things for little may my 
thinking profit. Would God that I cleaved not over much 
to chances that are to come that I might offer myself to 
thy well-pleasing without tarrying. 

Son, of ttimes a man is sore moved about a thing that he de- 
sireth; but when he is come to it, he beginneth to feel 
otherwise; for affections are not abiding about one thing 
but they be shuf ted from one to another. It is not there- 
fore a little thing, yea, it is not among least things for a 
man to forsake himself; true profit is denying of a man's 
self and a man so denied is full free and full sure. But the 
old enemy, adversary to all good, cease th not from temp- 
tation but day and night he lieth in a wait if he may bring 
headily (headlong) the unware man into the snare of 

Work therefore and pray, saith our Lord, that ye enter not 
into temptation. 

The Imitation of Christ 245 




LORD what is man that thou hast mind on him or the son of 
man that thou visitest him? What deserved man that 
thou shouldst give him thy grace? Lord, why may I com- 
plain if thou forsake me or what can I righteously pre- 
tend against thee if thou do not that I ask? Certainly this 
may I think in truth and say: Lord, I am naught, I can 
naught, I have no good of myself but in all things I fail 
and ever tend to naught. And unless I be helpen (helped) 
of thee and inwardly informed I am made all hike (warm) 
and dissolute. 

But thou Lord art ever one and abidest one everlastingly, ever 
God, righteous and holy, doing all things by wisdom. But 
I that am more prone to failing than to profit am not 
ever abiding in the same estate, for seven times change 
upon me. Nevertheless it is soon amended when it 
pleaseth thee to put to an helping hand; for thou alone 
without all man's succour mayst help and confirm me in 
such wise that my cheer (face) may no more be changed 
diversely but that in thee alone my heart may turn and 
be at rest. 

Wherefore if I could well cast away all man's consolation 
either for getting of devotion or for necessity compelling 
me to seek thee for there is no man that can comfort me 
then might I worthily trust in thy grace and rejoice in 
the gift of new consolation. 

Thanks be to thee whereof all cometh, as oft as it is well with 
me. For I am vanity and naught before thee, a man in- 
constant and sick; wherein therefore may I rejoice 01 
why covet I to be held in reputation? Is it not of naught 
and a most vain thing? Verily vainglory is an evil pestil- 
ence and the greatest vanity, for it draweth away from 

246 Thomas & Kempis 

true glory and despoileth (man) of heavenly grace. For 
while a man pleaseth himself, he displeaseth thee; and 
while he gapeth after man's praises he is deprived of true 

For true glory and holy exultation is to rejoice in thee and not 
in oneself, to joy in thy name and not in man's own vir- 
tue, and to delight in no creature save for thee. Praised 
be therefore thy name, not mine; magnified be thy work 
and not mine; blessed be thine holy name, but to me be 
nothing given of man's praises. 

Thou art my glory, thou art the exultation of my heart. In 
thee shall I rejoice and joy all day, for myself not at all, 
save in my infirmities. Let the Jews seek glory each of 
the other, I shall seek that that is of God alone, for all 
man's glory, all temporal worship (honour), all worldly 
height, compared to thine everlasting glory is vanity and 
folly. O my truth and my mercy, my God, blessed trinity, 
to thee alone be praise and honour virtue and glory 
through worlds infinite. Amen. 



SON, if thou see other men honoured take no such thing to thy- 
self but rather be despised and made low. Lift up thine 
heart to me in heaven and men's despising on earth shall 
not make thee sorry. 

Lord, we be in blindness and some are deceived of vanity. 
Lord, if I behold me aright there was never wrong done 
to me by no creature; wherefore of right I have nothing 
to complain of against thee. Forasmuch as I have oft and 
grievously offended thee, rightly is every creature armed 
against me. 

To me therefore is due confusion and despite but to thee praise 
honour and glory. And unless I make myself ready to 

The Imitation oj Christ 247 

this that I will gladly be despised of every creature and 
forsaken and utterly seem naught I may not be inwardly 
peaced (at peace) and stablished, nor spiritually be il- 
lumined nor fully oned (united) to thee. 



SON, if thou set (put) thy peace in any person for thine own 
feeling and living together (with them) thou shalt be 
unstable and unpeaced (not at peace). But if thou have 
recourse to the truth living and abiding, the friend that 
goeth from thee or dieth from thee shall not make thee 
sorry. In me ought to stand the love of the friend and 
whoever seemeth good to thee and dear in this life is to 
be beloved for me. 

Without me friendship is not worth and may not endure: and 
the love is not very true or pure that I couple not. Thou 
oughtest to be so dead from such affections of men be- 
loved, as in thee is; thou shouldest will to be without 
man's fellowship. The further that a man goeth from all 
earthly solace, the more he nigheth unto God. Also the 
more profoundly that a man goeth down into himself and 
waxeth vile to himself the higher he styeth (climbeth) up 
to God. 

He that ascribeth any good to himself, he letteth (hindreth) 
the coming of the grace of God into him, for the grace of 
the Holy Ghost seeketh ever the meek heart. If thou 
couldest perfectly make thyself naught and void (empty) 
thyself from all love of creatures then should I well into 
thee with great grace. When thou lookest to creatures 
thine affection is withdrawn from the creator. 

Learn in all things to overcome thyself for thy creator and 
thou shalt then be able to attain to the knowledge of 
God. How little ever it be that is beheld and loved inordi- 

248 Thomas a Kempis 

nately, it tarrieth (keepeth men) from the highest love 
anddraweth (them) into wickedness. 



SON, let not the fair and the subtle sayings of men move thee 
for the realm of God is not in word but in virtue. Take 
heed to my words the which set hearts afire and illuminate 
minds, bring in compunction and manifold consolations. 
Read never anything for thee to seem better taught or 
wiser. Study for mortification of sins and vices for that 
shall avail thee more than the knowledge of many hard 
questions. When thou hast read and known many things, 
it behoveth ever to have recourse to one principal thing. 

I am he that teacheth man cunning and I grant to meek men 
more clear understanding than may be taught of man. He 
to whom I speak shall soon be wise for he shall greatly 
profit in spirit. Woe to them that inquire many curious 
things of men but of the way to serve me care but little. 
Time shall come when there shall appear the Master of 
masters, Christ Jesu, to hear the lesson of all angels, 
that is to search the consciences of all men: and then 
shall Jerusalem be searched with lanterns and then shall 
be open the hidils (secrets) of darkness and then shall 
arguments of tongues be at peace. 

I it am that in a point lift up the meek soul so that he shall 
take (understand) my reasons of everlasting truth more 
than though he had studied ten years in schools. So I 
teach without noise of words, without confusion of opin- 
ions, without desire of honour, without fighting of argu- 

I it am that teach to despise earthly things, to be weary of 
things present, to seek heavenly things, to savour things 
everlasting, to flee honours, to suffer slanders, to put all 

The Imitation of Christ 249 

whole trust in me and covet nothing outside me and above 
all things to love me burningly. 

A certain man in loving me entirely learned godly things and 
spake marvels; he profited more in forsaking all things 
than in studying of subtleties. But to some I speak com- 
mon things, to some special, to some I appear surely in 
signs and figures, and to some I reveal mysteries in a great 

There is one voice of the books but it informeth (men) not 
alike: for I am the teacher of truth within, searcher of 
the heart, understander of the thoughts, promoter of the 
works, dealing to every man as I deem worthy. 



SON, in many things suppose thyself as dead upon the earth 
and one to whom all the world is crucified; and many 
things thou must pass over with a deaf ear and think 
rather on those things that belong unto thy peace. It is 
more profitable to turn away thine eye from things that 
displease and to leave to every man his own feeling than 
to strive with contentious words. If thou stand well with 
God and behold his judgment thou shalt bear it the more 
easily if thou be overcome. 

O Lord whither are we come? Lo, temporal harm is sorrowed 
for, men labour and run for little getting and spiritual 
harm is forgotten and scarcely and late cometh to mind 
again. That that availeth little or naught is taken heed to 
and that that is sovereignly necessary is negligently 
passed over; for man floweth out all to outer things and 
unless he turn again soon, gladly he lieth and resteth in 
outer things. 

2 $o Thomas a Kempis 



LORD, give me help out of tribulation for man's help is vain. 
How oft have I not found faith and trust where I weened 
to have had it; how oft also have I found it where I least 
presumed. Vain therefore is trust of man but the help 
of righteous men is in thee, God. Blessed be thou, Lord 
my God, in all things that fall to us. We be sick and un- 
stable, soon changed and soon deceived. 

Who is he that so warily and so circumspectly may keep him- 
self in all things but that some time he shall come into 
some deceit and some perplexity? But he that trusteth 
in thee Lord and seeketh thee with a simple heart, slideth 
not so lightly. And if he fall into any tribulation or be 
wrapped in any perplexity he shall soon be delivered 
thereof by thee or comforted by thee for thou shalt not 
forsake them that trust in thee to the end. 

Seldom is found a trusty friend that is persevering (lasting) 
in all the necessities of his friend. So, Lord, in all things 
thou art most trusty and among all there is not such an- 
other. O how well knew that holy soul that said "My mind 
is settled in God and grounded in Christ." If it was so 
with me, dread of man should not so trouble me, nor the 
darts of words should not move me. 

Who may see before and be ware of all things? If things fore- 
seen ofttimes hurt what then do things unforeseen but 
hurt grievously? But why did I not foresee better for my- 
self, wretch that I am? Also why believed I so lightly 
other men? But we are men and we are none other than 
frail men though we be deemed and called of other men as 

Whom shall I believe, Lord, whom but thee that art truth 
that deceivest not nor canst be deceived? And, on the 

The Imitation of Christ 251 

other side, every man is a liar, sick, unstable and sliding 
and specially in words. So that scarce may be believed 
anon that that soundeth well and righteously in a man's 

How prudently warnedst thou men to be ware of men and that 
a man's familiar friends are his enemies and that it is not 
good to believe those who say "Lo there" and "lo here." 
I am taught, and would God (it led) to greater wariness 
and less folly in me. 

"Be ware," said one, "be ware: keep to thyself that I say" and 
whiles I kept silence and weened it to be hid, he could not 
keep counsel of that he asked to be kept hid but anon 
discovered both me and him and went his way. From 
such fables and unwary men Lord defend me that I fall 
not into their hands nor do no such things. 

Give to my mouth a true word and a stable and a false wily 
tongue put far from me. O how good and how peaceable 
a thing it is for a man not to speak of other men, nor in- 
differently to believe all things nor lightly to speak a thing 
forth; to reveal himself to few, yea evermore to be sought 
(looked on) as a beholder of the heart, and not to be 
borne about with every wind of words but to desire all 
things inwardly and outwardly after the good pleasure of 
thy will. 

How sure a thing it is for the keeping of heavenly grace to flee 
from and not to desire such things that should give mat- 
ter for minding outwardly: but with all manner of busi- 
ness (care) to follow the things that make for amend- 
ment of life and fervour of spirit. O how many have been 
hurt by virtue known and praised and how wholesomely 
hath grace, kept under silence, availed men in this frail 
life that is all temptation and knighthood (service) . 

25? Thomas & Kempis 



SON, stand steadfastly and trust in me: for what are words but 
words? they flee through the air but they hurt not a stone. 
If thou be guilty think that thou art going gladly to 
amend thyself. If thou know thyself guilty in nothing, 
think that thou wilt suffer all gladly for God. It is little 
enough that thou now and then shouldst suffer words 
who canst not yet suffer strong beatings. 

And why takest thou so small things to heart, except that thou 
art fleshly and takest more heed to man than behoveth 
thee? And because thou dreadest to be despised thou wilt 
not be reproved for thine excesses and seekest the shad- 
ows of excuses. But behold thyself better and thou shalt 
know that yet the world liveth in thee and vain love of 
pleasing men. 

But all the while that thou fleest (shunnest) to be rebuked 
and confounded for thy faults it appeareth verily that 
thou art not very meek, nor the world dead to thee, nor 
thou crucified to the world. But hear my word and thou 
shalt not charge (care for) ten thousand words of men. 
Lo if all things were said against thee that would mali- 
ciously be feigned against thee how should they annoy 
thee if thou wouldst suffer them utterly to pass and 
wouldest no more set by them than a straw? Whether may 
they take one hair out from thee? 

But he that hath no heart within and hath not God before his 
eyes is soon moved with a word of blame. But he that 
trusteth in me and coveteth not to stand by his own judg- 
ment shall be without dread of man. Lo I am judge and 
knower of all secrets; I know how all things are done, I 
know the wrong-doer and the sufferer. Out from me went 
this word and by my sufferance this hath happened that 
the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed. 

The Imitation of Christ 253 

I shall judge the guilty and the innocent; but with a privy 
judgment, for I would prove both. Man's wits often fail 
and deceive but my judgment is true; wherefore it shall 
stand and shall not be subverted. It is hid ofttimes and is 
open to few in all things but it never erreth and it may 
not err, though to the eye of unwise men it appeareth not 
righteous; wherefore in every judgment recourse ought 
to be had to me and (men ought) not to lean to their own 
decision. For the righteous man shall not be sorry what- 
ever come to him from God; yea, though anything un- 
righteously be brought forth against him, he shall not 
much charge (care for) it; nor he shall not vainly rejoice 
if he be reasonably excused by others for he thinketh that 
I search the heart and the reins and that I judge not after 
the face and after man's appearance; for ofttimes in mine 
eyes that is found culpable which to the judgment of man 
seemeth laudable. 

Lord God, righteous judge, mighty and patient, thou knowest 
man's frailty and man's shrewdness (perversity) : be my 
strength and all my trust for my conscience sufnceth not 
for me. Thou knowest that I know not: and therefore I 
ought in every blame and reproof to meek myself and 
suffer mildly. 

Merciful Lord, forgive me as oft as I have not done so; and 
give me grace of more large sufferance, for thy copious 
mercy is better to me for getting of indulgence than my 
fancied righteousness for the defence of my secret con* 
science. And though I find no guilt in my conscience yet 
in that may I not justify myself; for in thy sight no man 
living can be justified. 

254 Thomas d, Kempis 



SON, let not the labours that thou hast taken upon thee for me 
make thee weary nor tribulations throw thee all down; 
but let my promise in every adventure strength thee and 
comfort thee. I am sufficient to reward above all manner 
and all measure. Thou shalt not labour long nor shalt 
ever be grieved with sorrows. Abide a little while and 
thou shalt see a swift end of all evils. 

One hour shall come when all labour shall cease and all noise; 
little it is and short, all that passeth with time. Do that 
thou dost, labour truly in my vineyard; I shall be thy 
reward. Write, read, sing, mourn, keep silence, pray, 
suffer contrariousness manly; for everlasting life is worth 
all these and much more and much greater battles. 

Peace shall come in one day known to our Lord, and of that 
time shall there be neither day nor night but light per- 
petual, infinite brightness, sovereign peace and sicker 
(sure) rest. Thou shalt not say then, Who shall deliver 
me from the body of this death, nor thou shalt not cry, 
Wo me for my dwelling here is overlong tarried ; for death 
shall be thrown down headlong and health shall be with- 
out fauting (blemish), none anxiety, blissful pleasure, 
sweet company and pleasant to behold. 

O if thou hadst seen the perpetual crowns of saints in heaven 
and in how much glory they joy now that sometimes in 
this world were deemed contemptible and as folk un- 
worthy to live, forsooth thou wouldst meek (humble) 
thyself unto the earth and wouldst rather be subject 
under all than to be above one; nor thou wouldst desire 
the merry days of this world but rather thou wouldst joy 
to suffer tribulation for God and wouldst take it as for a 
great gain to be accounted for naught among men. 

The Imitation of Christ 255 

O if these things tasted well to thee and entered into thine 
heart how durst thou once complain? Whether all labori- 
ous things ought not to be suffered for everlasting life? 
It is no little thing to win or to lose the kingdom of God. 
Lift up therefore thy visage unto heaven. Lo, I and all 
my saints with me which that in this world have had 
great battle, now they joy, now they be comforted, now 
they be sure, now they rest and in that end shall abide 
with me in the kingdom of my father. 



O THE most blissful dwelling place of that high city. O the 
most clear day of eternity which no night maketh dark 
but sovereign truth ever beshineth it; the day ever glad, 
ever sure and never changing state into the contrary. O 
would God that that day had once shined and all these 
temporal things had taken an end. And this day shineth 
to saints in a perpetual bright clearness but to pilgrims all 
afar and by a mirror. 

The citizens of heaven know how joyous is that day; the 
exiled sons of Eve wail, so sorrowful is this day. The days 
of this time are little and evil, full of sorrow and an- 
guish; when man is defouled with many sins, tied with 
many passions, strained with many dreads, distant 
with many cares, distract with many curiosities, wrapped 
in many vanities, surrounded with many errors, broken 
with many labours, grieved with many temptations, made 
soft and weak with delights, tormented with need and 

O when shall there be an end of all these evils? when shall I be 
delivered from the wretched thraldom of vices? when 
shall I, Lord, have mind on thee alone? when shall I at 

256 Thomas a Kempls 

full be glad in thee? when shall I be without any impedi- 
ment in true liberty, without grievance of soul or body. 
When shall there be sad (settled) peace, peace undis- 
turbed and sure, peace within and without, peace firm on 
every side? 

Good Jesu, when shall I stand to see thee? when shall I be- 
hold the glory of thy kingdom? when wilt thou be to me 
all in all? When shall I be with thee in thy kingdom that 
thou hast ordained to thy well beloved from everlasting? 
I am left poor and exile in the land of enemies where are 
daily battles and greatest misfortunes. Comfort mine 
exile, assuage my sorrow, for to thee suspireth all my de- 
sire; for all that the world offereth me as solace is to me 
an heavy burden. 

I desire to enjoy thee inwardly but I cannot take thee. I desire 
to cleave to heavenly things but fleshly things and un- 
mortified passions depress me. I will in my mind be 
above all things, but in despite of myself I am constrained 
to be beneath. So I unhappy man fight with myself and 
am made grievous to myself while the spirit seeketh what 
is above and the flesh what is beneath. O what I suffer 
within while I think on heavenly things in my mind ; the 
company of fleshly things cometh against me when I 

My God, be not far from me, decline not from thy servant in 
wrath. Lighten out in shining and waste them, send out 
thine arrows and thou shalt spill them and all the fan- 
tasies of the enemy shall be borne down. Gather together 
all my wits to thee, make me to forget all worldly things 
and grant me soon to cast away and despise all fantasies 
of vices. 

fhou, truth eternal, succour me that no vanity may move me. 
Come heavenly sweetness and make to flee from thy 
visage all manner of impurity. Forgive me also and merci- 
fully forget as of ttimes as in my prayer I think on any 
other thing than thee. I acknowledge truly that I am 
wont to behave me there full distractedly and many times 

The Imitation oj Christ 257 

I am not there where I stand or sit bodily but rather 1 
am there where I am borne with my thoughts. Where my 
thought is, there am I; and where my thought is there I 
love. That thing cometh soon to mind that naturally 
please th or delighteth through use. Wherefore thou, 
truth, saidest openly "Where is thy treasure there is thine 

If I love heaven I am glad to think on heavenly things. If I 
love the world, I joy in the world's felicity and sorrow 
in the world's adversity. If I love the flesh I imagine 
ofttimes on such things as belong to the flesh. If I love 
the spirit, I have a delight to think on spiritual things. 
Whatever things that I love of them gladly I speak and 
hear and the images of such I bear to mine house. 

But blissful is that man that, for the Lord, giveth all creatures 
licence to go their way, that doth violence to nature, that 
crucifieth the lusts of the flesh with the fervour of the 
spirit, that with a clear conscience he may offer to thee a 
pure prayer and be worthy to be present with the quire 
(choir) of angels, all earthly things excluded within and 



SON, when thou feelest the desire of everlasting bliss to be 
poured into thee from above, and thou desirest to go out 
of the tabernacle of the body, that thou mayst behold my 
clearness without shadow of changeableness, open thine 
heart and receive this holy inspiration with all manner 
of desire. Yield to the sovereign bounty most large thanks 
that doth with thee so worthily, visiteth mercifully, ex- 
citeth ardently, lifteth up mightily, lest thou with thine 
own weight slide down to earthly things. 

For thou takest not this with thine own thought or thine own 

258 Thomas & Kempis 

power but only by worthiness of the most high grace and 
of God's beholding thee that thou mayst profit the more 
in virtues and greater meekness and make thee ready for 
battles that are to come and cleave to me with all thine 
affection and that thou mayst study to serve me with a 
fervent will. 

Son, of ttimes the fire burneth but without flame and smoke it 
styeth (riseth) never up. So the desires of some men are 
lift up to heavenly things and nevertheless they are not 
free from the temptation of fleshly affections; and there- 
fore they do not in all wise purely for the service of God in 
that they ask so desirously of God. And such is ofttime 
the desire that thou hast said should be so importunate, 
for that is not pure and perfect that is done for one's own 

Ask that thing that is not to thee delightful nor profitable but 
that that is to me acceptable and honourable; for if thou 
judge righteously thou oughtest to put mine ordinance 
before thy desire and prefer and follow it afore all things. 
For I have heard thy desire and thy manifold mournings. 

Now thou wouldst be in the liberty of the glory of the sons of 
God; now the house everlasting delighteth thee and the 
heavenly country full of joy; but yet this hour is not 
come; there is yet another time, time of battle, time of 
labour and of proving. Thou desirest to be fulfilled with 
the most sovereign good; but thou canst not follow that 

"I am" saith our Lord "abide me, till the kingdom of God 
come." As yet thou art to be proved on earth and to be 
exercised in many things. Consolation shall be given thee 
now and then but copious fulfilling is not granted. Be 
thou comforted therefore and be strong as well in doing 
as in suffering things contrary to nature. 

It behoveth thee to be clothed in a new man and to be changed 
into another. It behoveth thee to do of ttimes that thou 
wouldest not do, and to forsake that thou wouldest do. 
That that pleaseth others shall cause profit, but that that 

The Imitation of Christ 259 

pleaseth thyself shall not profit; what other men say shalj 
be heard, what thou sayest shall be accounted as naught, 

Other men shall ask and take: thou shalt ask and not get, 
Others shall be great in men's mouths; of thee men shall 
hold their peace. To others this or that shall be com- 
mitted; thou shalt be judged in nothing profitable. 
Wherefore kind (nature) shall some time be sorry and 
suffer great battle if thou in silence hear these things. In 
these and in many other like things the true servant of 
God is wont to be proved, how he may deny and break 

There is scarce any such thing which thou needest think of as 
to see and suffer such things as are contrary to thy will, 
specially when thou art commanded to do such things as 
seem to thee disconvenient and least profitable. And for 
thou darest not withstand the higher power set above 
thee under our Lord therefore it seemeth to thee hard to 
go at another man's beckoning and to leave all thine own 

But, son, peisie (weigh) the fruit and the swift end of all these 
labours and the meed, great without measure; and then 
shalt thou have no grievance thereat but a mighty com- 
fort of patience. For this little will that thou forsakest 
freely thou shalt ever have thine own will in heaven. 
There thou shalt find whatever thou wilt and all that 
thou canst desire; there shall be plenty of all good with- 
out dread of losing or foregoing. There thy will, ever be- 
ing one with me, shall never covet strange things nor 

There shall no man withstand thee, there shall no man com- 
plain on thee, no man shall let (hinder) thee, no man 
shall contrary thee, but all things desired shall be present 
together and shall refresh all thy desire and shall fill it 
to the highest. There shall I give glory and honour for 
shame and reproof, a pall of praise for mourning and In- 
stead of the lowest place a seat in the kingdom for ever. 
There shall appear the fruit of obedience, there the labour 

260 Thomas d Kempis 

of penance and meek subjection shall be crowned glori- 
ously. Wherefore bow down thyself meekly under the 
hands of all and take no heed who said this or who com- 
manded this; but take care of this above all whether 
prelate or one less than thou or one even with thee ask 
any thing of thee or move (apply) any thing to thee, 
that thou take all as good and study to fulfil it with a 
pure will. 

Let one seek this, another that; let one rejoice in this and one 
in that; let one be praised a thousand thousand times; 
but joy thou neither in this nor in that, but in contempt 
of thyself and in my well pleasing and honour. This is 
ever to be desired of thee but both by life and death let 
God be ever glorified in thee. 



LORD God, holy father, blessed mayst thou be now and ever- 
lastingly, for as thou wilt so it is done and that thou dost 
is good. Glad must thy servant be in thee and not in him- 
self nor in any other thing, for thou alone art true glad- 
ness, thou art mine hope and my crown, thou art my joy 
and my honour. What hath thy servant but what he hath 
taken of thee and that without merit of his own? All 
things are thine that thou hast given and that thou hast 

I am poor and in labour from my youth up and my soul is oft- 
times sorry unto tears and some times it is troubled to- 
wards itself for encumbrance of passions. I desire the joy 
of peace; the peace of thy sons I ask that are fed of thee 
in the light of consolation. If thou give peace, if thou 
pour on me holy joy, the soul of thy servant shall be full 
of and devout in thy praise. 

The Imitation of Christ a6i 

But if thou withdraw thyself as thou art wont to do full oft. 
he may not run the way of thy commandments; but 
rather his knees are bound to knock his breast; for it is 
not with him as it was yesterday and the other day when 
thy lantern shined upon his head and he was defended 
under the shadow of thy wings from temptations falling 
upon him. Righteous father and ever to be praised, the 
hour is come that thy servant may be proved. Lovely 
father, it is worthy that this hour thy servant should 
suffer somewhat for thee. Father perpetually to be hon- 
oured, let thy servant live inwardly (the inner life) ever 
before thee whom thou knowest from the beginning to be 
such that he should for a little time fall outwardly (in the 
outer life). 

For a little time let him be set little by, be meeked (humbled) 
and fail afore men, let him be broken with passions and 
languors, that he may rise again with thee in the morrow 
tide of a new light and be made bright in heavenly 
things. Holy father, thou hast so ordained and willed and 
that is done that thou hast commanded, for this is thy 
grace to thy friend in this world to suffer and to be 
troubled for thy love, how oft and at whose hand soever 
thou sufferest it to be done. 

Without thy counsel and thy prudence and without cause is 
nothing done on earth. Good is it for me, Lord, that thou 
hast meeked (humbled) me, that I may learn thy laws 
and cast away elation of heart and presumption. It is 
profitable to me that shame and confusion have covered 
my face that I may require thee to be my comfort rather 
than men. I have learned hereby to dread thine inscruta- 
ble judgments that painest (punishest) the righteous 
man with the wicked, but not without righteousness and 

Lord I thank thee that thou hast not spared my evils (sins) 
but that thou hast bruised me with beatings, putting 
sorrows into me and sending anguish unto me within and 

262 Thomas & Kempis 

without. There is none that may comfort me of all that 
are under heaven but thou my Lord God the heavenly 
leech of souls that smitest and healest, that leadest to the 
lowest places and bringest from thence again. Thy disci- 
pline is upon me and thy rod she shall teach me. 

Lo, well beloved father, I am in thine hands. I incline me 
under the rod of thy correction, smite my back and my 
neck so that I may bow my crookedness to thy will. 
Make me a meek disciple, as thou art wont to do, that I 
may go entirely at thy beckoning. To thee I commit me 
and all mine, to correct; for it is better to be chastised 
here than in time coming. Thou knowest all things and 
every thing and nothing in man's conscience is hid from 
thee. Thou knowest things to come ere they be done, nor 
is there need that man teach thee or admonish thee of 
those things that are done on earth. 

Thou knowest what is expedient for my profit and how much 
tribulation is needed to purge the rust of my vices. Do 
with me thy desired will and despise not my sinful life 
to none better known nor clearer than to thee alone. 
Grant me, Lord, to know all that is to be known and to 
love all that is to be loved and to praise all that sov- 
ereignly please th thee; to have in reputation that that 
appeareth precious to thee and to blame that is foul in 
thine eyes. 

Suffer me not to judge after the sight of the outward eyes, nor 
give sentence after the hearing of ears of unlearned men, 
but to discern in a true judgment both of things visible 
and spiritual and above all things ever to inquire after 
the will of thy pleasure. Men's wits are of ttimes deceived 
in judging; as lovers of this world are of ttimes blinded in 
loving only things visible. 

What is a man the better therefore that he is accounted 
greater of man? The deceivable beguileth the deceivable, 
the vain the vain, the blind the blind, the sick the sick 
whiles he lif teth him up, and truly conf oundeth him more 

The Imitation of Christ 

whiles he vainly praiseth him. For what any man is in 
thine eyes, Lord, so much he is and no more, as saith 
meek Francis. 



SON, thou mayst not always stand in the most fervent desire 
of virtue, nor abide stedfastly in the highest degree of 
contemplation; but thou hast need now and then because 
of original corruption to descend to lower things and bear 
the burden of this corruptible life against thy will and 
with weariness. As long as thou bearest a mortal body 
thou shalt find heaviness and grievance of heart. It be- 
hoveth thee therefore ofttimes in the flesh to wail under 
the burdens of the flesh inasmuch as thou mayst not 
without ceasing cleave to spiritual studies and divine 

Then it is speedful to thee to draw thyself to meek and out- 
ward works and to take recreation in good active occu- 
pations abiding my coming and the high visitation with 
a stedfast trust and to suffer patiently thine exile and 
dryness of soul till thou be visited anew and delivered 
from all anxieties; for I shall make thee to forget thy 
labours and enjoy inward quiet: I shall open before thee 
the meadows of the scriptures that thou with a heart may 
run the way of my commandments: and then thou shalt 
say "the sufferings of this time are not worthy to the 
glory that shall be revealed in us." 

a 64 Thomas & Kempis 



LORD I am not worthy of any consolation nor of any spiritual 
visitation, and therefore thou dost righteously with me 
when thou forsakest me, needy and desolate. For if I 
could pour out tears like the sea, yet were I not worthy 
of thy consolation. Wherefore I am nothing more worthy 
than to be scourged and punished for I have ofttimes 
offended thee and forsaken thee greatly in many things. 
Wherefore, true reason peised (being weighed) I am not 
worthy the least consolation. 

But thou gracious and merciful Lord that wilt not that thy 
works should perish and wilt show the riches of thy good- 
ness in the vessels of mercy above all our merit, vouchsafe 
to comfort thy servant above all man's measure; for thy 
consolations are not as man's talkings or what have I 
done, Lord, that thou shouldst give me any heavenly 
consolation? I have no remembrance of any good that I 
have done but the very truth is that I have been ever 
ready and prone to vices and slow to amendment the 
which I can not deny. If I would say otherwise thou 
wouldst stand against me and there would no man defend 

What have I deserved for my sins but hell and everlasting fire? 
I acknowledge in truth that I am worthy of all manner 
of scorning and despite nor it sitteth (suiteth) me not to 
be numbered among thy devout servants. And though I 
bear not this easily nevertheless for truth's sake I shall 
against myself reprove my sins that I may the more 
easily get thy mercy. What shall I say, a guilty man and 
full of all confusion? I have no words to speak but only 
this word: I have sinned, Lord, I have sinned: have 
mercy on me, forgive me. Suffer me a little while that I 

The Imitation of Christ 265 

may wail my sorrow or ever I go to the dark land cov- 
ered with the darkness of death. 

What requirest thou most of the guilty and the wretched sin- 
ner but that he be converted and meek (humble) himself 
for his sins? In true contrition and meekness of heart is 
brought forth hope of forgiveness, the troubled conscience 
is reconciled, grace lost is repaired, man is defended from 
wrath that is to come and God and the meek soul meet 
in a holy kiss. Contrition for sin is to the Lord an accept- 
able sacrifice, smelling much sweeter than any sweet in- 
cense. This is also that acceptable ointment that thou 
wouldst should be poured upon thy most holy feet; for 
thou hast never despised the contrite and the meeked 
(humbled) heart. There is the place of refuge from the 
visage of the wrath of the enemy; there is amended and 
washen away all that is contract and defouled elsewhere. 



SON, my grace is precious, suffereth not itself to be mingled 
with strange things nor earthly consolations. Wherefore 
it behoveth thee to cast away impediments to grace if 
thou wilt to receive the inpouring thereof. Ask for thy- 
self a secret place, love to dwell alone with thyself, seek 
confabulation of none other; but rather put out to God a 
devout prayer that thou mayst have a devout mind and 
a pure conscience. Deem all the world as naught; put the 
vacation to (readiness for) God before all other things 
for thou canst not both take heed to me and delight thee 
in things transitory. 

It behoveth thee to be eloyned (distant) from known and 
dear friends and keep thy mind private from all temporal 

266 Thomas a Kempis 

solace. So beseecheth the blessed apostle Peter that all 
true Christian men should hold themselves in this world 
as strangers and pilgrims. O how great confidence shall be 
to the man that shall die whom affection for no earthly 
thing withholdeth in this world. But thus to have the 
heart departed from all things, a sick and a weak soul 
cannot understand it nor doth the beastly (natural) man 
know the liberty of the inward man. 

Nevertheless if one would be very spiritual, it behoveth him to 
renounce both them that be afar and them that are nigh 
and of none so much to be ware as of himself. If thou 
overcome thyself perfectly thou shalt the more lightly 
put under foot all other things. It is perfect victory for 
a man to overcome himself. If any keep himself so under 
that sensuality obeys reason and reason me in all things 
he shall be a true victor of himself and lord of the world. 

If thou desire to stie (step) up to the height of perfection thou 
must begin manly and set the axe to the root that thou 
mayst root up and destroy all inordinate affection to 
thyself and to all private and material good. On this 
vice that a man loveth himself too inordinately hangs 
every thing almost that is groundly (utterly) to be over- 
come ; the which evil overcome and put under forthwith 
there shall be great peace and tranquillity. 

But few there are that labour perfectly to die to themselves 
and do not fully stretch themselves beyond themselves; 
therefore they remain implicated and encumbered in 
themselves that they may not be lift up in spirit above 
themselves. Whoso that desireth freely to walk with me 
if behoveth him that he mortify all his shrewd (evil) and 
inordinate affections and that he cleave to no creature 
lustfully with any private love. 

The Imitation of Christ 267 



SON, attend diligently to the movings of nature and of grace, 
for they are full contrary and subtly moved and they 
can scarce be perceived except it be by a spiritual man 
and a man inwardly illumined. All folk desire that is 
good and in their words and in their deeds they put for- 
ward some manner of good ; wherefore many are deceived 
under colour of good. 

Nature is wily and draweth many men and holdeth them as 
in a snare and deceiveth them and hath herself ever as 
an end, seeking none other. But grace goeth simply 
and declineth from all that seemeth evil, pretending no 
falseness or deceits and doth all things purely for God 
in whom finally she resteth. Nature dieth against his 
will, he will not be thrown down nor overcome nor be 
under nor willingly come under yoke; but grace la- 
boureth and studieth to mortification of itself, she with- 
standeth sensuality, she seeketh to be made subject, she 
desireth to be overcome, she will not use her own liberty 
but she loveth to be under discipline, she coveteth to 
have lordship over nobody but to live, to stand and to 
be only under God, ready, for God, to be meekly inclined 
and bowed to every creature of mankind. 

Nature laboureth for his own profit and taketh heed what 
lucre may come to himself alone, but grace considereth 
not what is profitable and advantageous to one but to 
many. Nature receiveth gladly honour and reverence; 
but grace giveth all worship and glory freely to God. 
Nature dreadeth shame and despite; but grace rejoiceth 
to suffer for the name of Jesu. Nature loveth idleness 
and bodily rest, but grace cannot be void or idle, but 
gladly taketh upon her labour and travail. Nature 
seeketh to have curious things and fair things and 

i68 Thomas & Kempis 

toatheth all vile things and gross things, but grace de- 
Kghteth in simple things and low things and despiseth 
no asperity nor refuseth to be clothed in old clothes. 
Nature beholdeth temporal things and joyeth of earthly 
winnings and sorroweth for worldly harms and is moved 
soon to wrath with a little word of wrong; but grace 
attendeth everlasting things nor cleaveth not to tem- 
poral things nor is troubled with the loss of them, nor is 
not angered with sharp words for she setteth all her joy 
and her treasure in heaven where nothing perisheth. 

Nature is covetous and more gladly taketh than giveth, he 
loveth his own and private goods; but grace is full of 
pity, she is common, she escheweth singular (private) 
things and is content with few and deemeth it more bliss- 
ful to give than to take. Nature inclineth to creatures, 
to his own flesh, to vanities, to discourses and running 
about; but grace draweth to God and to virtues, re- 
nounceth creatures, fleeth the world, hateth the fleshly 
desires, restraineth wanderings about and is ashamed to 
appear in open places. Nature gladly receive th outward 
comforts; but grace delighteth in the sovereign good 
above all things visible. Nature doth all things for his 
own gain and for his own profit and can do nothing 
freely; and if he do any benefit he will wait (expect) to 
have as good or better, or praise, or favour, and desireth 
that his deeds and his gifts should be praised and much 
set by. But grace seeketh no temporal things, nor seeketh 
none other meed but God whom solely she desireth for 
her reward ; nor desireth she no more of temporal things 
than as may be helping to her to get everlasting things. 

Nature rejoiceth of many friends and allies and joyeth of 
noble places and of great birth, laugheth upon might and 
power, blandisheth rich folk, and hath plesance in such 
as are like to himself; but grace loveth her enemies; she 
is not proud of multitude of friends nor accounteth place 
nor birth unless there be the more virtue there; she 
favoureth more the poor than the rich; she hath more 

The Imitation of Christ *6g 

companion in the innocent than in the mighty, she joyeth 
with the true man, not with the false man, and ever 
exhorteth to good, to seek more grace and to be like the 
Son of God in virtues. Nature complaineth soon of faults 
and of grievance but grace stedfastly beareth poverty 
and need. Nature reflecteth all things to himself and for 
himself he striveth and argueth: but grace reduceth 
all things to God of whom they well out groundly and 
originally; she ascribeth nothing that is good to herself 
nor presumeth nothing proudly, nor striveth not, nor 
preferreth not her sentence (opinion) before others, but 
in every feeling and in every understanding submitteth 
herself to the everlasting wisdom and to God's examina- 

Nature coveteth to know secrets and to hear new things; he 
will appear outwardly and by feeling have experience 
of many things; he desire th to be known and to do such 
things of which praise and wonder may arise. But grace 
taketh no heed to perceive new things and curious, for 
all this groweth of corruption, since there is nothing new 
and durable upon the earth. Grace also teacheth to re- 
strain the wits, to eschew vain plesance and ostentation, 
meekly to hide such things as are commendable and 
wonderful and in every thing and every science to seek 
out the fruit of profit and God's praise and his honour. 
Grace desireth neither herself nor her works to be 
preached openly, but desireth God to be blest in his gifts 
that granteth all things of his pure largesse. 

This grace is a light supernatural and a special gift of God 
and a proper sign of the chosen children of God and the 
earnest of everlasting health; for God lifteth up man 
from earthly things to love heavenly things and of him 
that is fleshly he maketh (a) spiritual (man). Wherefore 
the more that nature is holden under and overcome, the 
more grace is poured in and the inward man is every day 
renewed according to the image of God with new visi- 

2 TO Thomas & Kempis 



MY LORD God that hast made me to thine image and likeness, 
grant me this grace that thou hast shown to be so great 
and so needful to man's health that I may overcome my 
most wicked nature that draweth me to sins and to perdi- 
tion. For I feel in my flesh the law of sin contrarying the 
law of my mind and leading me as a caitiff to obey 
sensuality in many things; nor may I withstand his 
passion unless thy most holy grace passed into mine 
hearth be assistant to me. Needful it is to have thy grace 
yea and thy great grace that nature may be overcome 
that is ever ready to evil, of young age and youth. For 
nature (having) slidden and (being) vitiated by the 
first man Adam through sin, the pain of that spot hath 
come down to all men so that nature that was well and 
evenly made by thee is now set for (fixed in) vice and 
infirmity of corrupt nature, inasmuch as its movement 
left and abandoned to himself draweth ever to evil and to 
low things and that little good strength that is left is 
as but a little sparkle hid in ashen. This is natural reason 
surrounded on every side with darkness having yet judg- 
ment of good and evil and distance of (distinction be- 
tween) true and false, though it be unable to fulfil that 
it approveth nor useth it now full light of truth or holi- 
ness of affections. 

Therefore it is, my God, that after the inward man I delight 
me in thy law knowing thy commandment to be good 
and just and holy, proving also all sins and all evil to 
be fled, but in my flesh I serve the law of sin while I obey 
sensuality more than reason. Here through it is that to 
will good cometh to me, but to do it in deed I find not 
in me. Wherefore ofttimes I purpose many good things 
but for that thy grace lacketh (faileth) that should help 

The Imitation of Christ 271 

mine infirmity, through a light resistance I turn back 
and fail. Herethrough it happeneth that though I know 
the way of perfection and that I see clearly what I ought 
to do yet I am so pressed with the weight of mine own 
corruption that I may not arise to more perfection. 

O Lord how most necessary is grace to begin good, to profit 
in good and to be perfected in good. For without it I may 
do nothing but in thee I am mighty in all things, grace 
strengthening me. O that true heavenly grace, without 
which properly there are no merits nor no gifts of nature 
to be peised. Lord, without grace, as compared with thee 
they be of no value, neither crafts nor riches nor beauty 
nor strength nor wit nor eloquence. For gifts of nature 
are common to the good and to the evil but the proper 
gift of the chosen children is grace or charity wherewith 
he that is nobled shall be worthy everlasting life. This 
grace is so eminent and so excellent that neither the gift 
of prophecy nor working of miracles nor speculation, be 
it never so high, is of any estimation without her; yea, 
neither faith nor hope nor other virtues are acceptable to 
thee without grace and charity. 

O thou most blissful grace, that makest the poor in spirit rich 
in virtue and the meek in heart rich in many goods. Come, 
descend unto me, fulfil me betimes with thy consolation 
lest my soul fail for weariness and dryness of mind. Lord 
I beseech thee that I may find grace in thine eyes; for 
thy grace sufficeth me, other things that nature desireth 
not being counted. If I be tempted and vexed with many 
tribulations I shall not dread while thy grace is with me. 
She is my strength, she giveth me counsel and help. She 
is more mighty than all enemies, she is wiser than all the 
wise. She is mistress of truth, teacher of discipline, light 
of the heart, the solace of pressure (trouble), thrower 
down and driver away of sorrow, taker away of dread, 
nourisher of devotion and bringer forth of tears. What 
am I without her, but a dry tree and an unprofitable 
stock? Wherefore, Lord, let thy grace ever more go afore 

272 Thomas & Kempis 

me and follow me and make me to be continually and 
busily given to good works by our Lord Jesu Christ, 
thy Son. 



SON, as much as thou canst go out from thyself. As for a man 
to covet nothing outward maketh inward peace so for a 
man inwardly to forsake himself joineth and uniteth 
him to God. I will that thou learn perfect abnegation 
ef thyself to my will without contradiction and com- 
plaining. Follow me: I am the way, truth and life. With- 
out a way men go not, without truth men know not, 
without life men live not. 

I am the way that thou shalt follow, I am the truth that thou 
shalt believe, and the life that thou shalt hope (for). 
I am the way undefouled, the truth infallible, the life 
interminable. I am the most even way, most sovereign 
truth, true life increate and life blissful. If thou dwell 
in my way thou shalt know truth and truth shall deliver 
thee and thou shalt have everlasting life. 

If thou wilt live keep the commandments. If thou wilt know 
truth believe me. If thou will be perfect sell all things. 
If thou wilt be my disciple deny thyself. If thou wilt 
have the life that is to come despise this that is present. 
If thou wilt be enhanced in heaven, meek (humble) 
thyself in the world. If thou wilt reign with me, bear 
my cross; for only the servants of the cross find the way 
of bliss and of everlasting light. 

Lard Jesu, for thy way was strait and despised of the world, 
grant me to follow thee with the world's despising: for 
the servant is no greater than his lord nor the disciple 
above his master. Let thy servant be exercised in thy 
life for there is mine health and very holiness. Whatever 

The Imitation of Christ 273 

I hear or read besides that, it refresheth not nor de- 
lighteth not fully. 

Son, for thou hast read and knowest all these things thou art 
blissful if thou do them. He that hath my commandments 
and keepeth them he it is that loveth me and I shall love 
him and show myself to him and shall make him an heir 
in the kingdom of my father. 

Lord Jesu as thou hast said and promised so be it to me 
and so may I deserve. I have taken from thy hand the 
cross and so shall I bear it to my death as thou hast laid 
it upon me. Verily the cross is the life of a good monk 
and the leader to paradise. (When) it is begun it is not 
lawful to go backward nor is it behoveful to forsake it. 
Have done, brother, go we together; Jesu shall be with 
us. For Jesu we have taken this cross for Jesu persevere 
we in the cross. He shall be our help that is our leader 
and our predecessor. 

Lo our king goeth before us and shall fight for us. Let us fol- 
low manly, let no man dread terrors; be we ready to 
die bravely in battle; let us put no spot on our glory in 
fleeing from the cross. 



SON, patience and meekness in adversity pleaseth me more 
than much jubilation and devotion in prosperity. Why 
doth a little thing said or done against thee make thee 
sorry? It is no new thing: it is not the first, nor shall 
not be the last, if thou live long. Thou art manly enough 
all the while no contrary cometh against thee. Thou canst 
counsel well and labour (prove) other men with wise 
words; but when a sudden tribulation cometh to thy 
gate, thou failest both in counsel and in strength. 

274 Thomas & Kempis 

Take heed to thy frailty whereof thou hast experience in many 
small objects and contrarinesses, nevertheless when these 
are all done for thine health and when they and such 
other happen, purpose as well as thou canst in thine heart 
that if they touch thee they throw thee not down nor 
long encumber thee ; and at least suffer patiently if thou 
canst not suffer joyfully. And if thou canst not bear it 
gladly and feelest in thyself a loathing, restrain thyself 
and let nothing inordinate pass thy mouth that might 
be to the small and to the feeble an occasion of falling. 
The moving that would out (disturbance) shall soon rest 
and, grace returning again, the inward sorrow shall soon 
be made sweet. 

Yet I live, saith our Lord, ready to help thee and comfort 
thee more than I am wont so that thou trust in me and 
inwardly and devoutly pray to me. Be mighty in soul 
and gird thee and make thee ready to more sufferance. 
It is not done idly if thou perceive thyself ofttimes trou- 
bled or grievously tempted. Thou art a man and not God, 
thou art flesh and no angel ; how canst thou abide ever in 
one state of virtue, since that the first angel in heaven 
lacked and the first man hi paradise. 

I am it that reareth to health them that mourn and bring 
to my Godhead them that know their own infirmity. 

Lord, blessed be thy word sweet to my mouth above the 
hqney and the honeycomb. What should I do in so great 
tribulation and in mine anguish unless thou comfortedst 
me with thy holy words? If at the last I may come to the 
port of health what reck I what things and how great 
things I suffer? Grant me a good end, grant me a gracious 
going out of this world; have mind on me, my God and 
direct me in the right way to thy kingdom. Amen. 

The Imitation of Christ 275 



SON, be ware that thou dispute not of high matters and of the 
privy judgments of God, why this (one) is forsaken and 
another is taken up to so great 'grace; why this (one) is 
greatly pained and he is so excellently lift up. These 
things pass all man's faculty nor is there reason nor 
disputation that sufficeth to search God's judgment. 

Wherefore when the enemy bringeth such things to mind or 
else curious men ask thee, answer and say with David: 
Lord thou art just and thy judgment is righteous; the 
judgments of God are true and justified in themselves. 
My judgments are to be dreaded and not to be searched ; 
for they be incomprehensible to man's understanding. 

Inquire nor dispute not of the merits of saints who is holier 
than another or who is greater in the kingdom of heaven. 
Such things ofttimes engender strifes and unprofitable 
contentions and nourish pride and vainglory whereof 
grow envies and dissensions while this (man) is about 
proudly to prefer one saint and another, another. For a 
man to will to search and to know such things bringeth 
forth not fruit but rather displeaseth saints; for I am 
no God of dissension but of peace, which peace standeth 
more in true meekness than in selfish exaltation. 

Some with a manner of zeal of love are drawn with more 
affection to these saints or to those saints but that affec- 
tion is more of man than it is godly. I it am that made 
all saints and granted (them) grace. I gave glory: I 
know the merits of every (one) ; I presented them with 
blessings of sweetness; I predestinated them before the 
world; I chose them out of the world; they chose not 
me before; I called them by grace; I drew them by 
mercy; I led them by divers temptations; I poured into 

276 Thomas d K empis 

them great consolations; I gave perseverance; I crowned 
their patience. 

I know the first and the last, I call them all with an inesti- 
mable love. I am to be praised in all my saints. I am to 
be blessed above all things and to be honoured in every 
one of them whom I have so graciously magnified and 
predestined without any merits going before. He there- 
fore that despiseth one of my least, honoureth not the 
great; for I made both the great and the small. And he 
that doth hindering to any of my saints doth derogation 
to me and to all other in the kingdom of saints. 

Ml are one by the bond of charity; they feel the same, and 
all one; they will the same and they all love in one. And 
yet what is most high of all, they love me more than 
themselves, and drawn out of their own love go all and 
wholly into love of me in whom they rest rejoicing. There 
is nothing that can turn them away or throw them down 
since they being full of everlasting truth burn in an un- 
quenchable fire of charity. 

Wherefore let fleshly and beastly (natural) men cease to 
dispute of the state of saints that can only love their 
own and private joys. They put away and add according 
to their own inclination not as it pleaseth the everlasting 
truth; in many there is ignorance and specially in those 
that but little illumined can seldom love anybody with 
perfect spiritual love. They be greatly drawn with natural 
affection and men's friendship to these and to those; and 
as they behave them in these lower things so they imagine 
in heavenly things. 

But there is a distance incomparable between those things that 
imperfect men think and those that men illumined by 
high revelation behold. Be ware therefore son that thou 
treat not curiously of such things as pass thy cunning 
but rather tend and labour to this that thou mayst be 
found though it be the least in the kingdom of heaven. 
And if a man knew what saint were holier or greater than 
another in the kingdom of heaven what should that 

The Imitation of Christ 277 

knowing avail unless a man by the same knowledge 
meeked (humbled) himself before me and arose to greater 
praise of my name? 

They are much more acceptable to God that think on the 
greatness of their sins and of the littleness of their virtues 
and how far they be from the perfection of saints than 
they that dispute of the greatness and of the littleness of 
saints. Better it is to pray to saints with devout prayer 
and tears and to desire their glorious suffrages with a 
meek soul than to search their secrets with vain inquiry. 

They be well content and in the best manner content if men 
could be content and could restrain their vain speeches. 
They rejoice not in their own merits, they ascribe to 
themselves no goodness but all to me; for I gave them 
all things of mine infinite charity. They are fulfilled with 
so great love of the Godhead and such overflowing joy 
that nothing faileth them of glory, nothing faileth them 
of bliss. All saints the higher that they are in glory the 
more meek they be and the nearer to me. Therefore it 
is written that they laid their crowns before God and 
fell down prostrate before the Lamb and worshipped him 
for ever and ever. 

Many ask who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven that know 
not whether they shall be worthy to be accounted 
among the least. This is a great thing for a man to be 
the least in heaven where all be great and all are called 
the sons of God and so they shall be. When the disciples 
asked who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven they 
had this answer: Unless ye be converted and made as 
small children ye shall not enter into the kingdom of 
heaven; who ever therefore meeketh ( humble th) him as 
this little child he is the greatest in the kingdom of 

Woe to them that disdain to meek (humble) themselves will- 
ingly as small children for the low gate of the kingdom 
of heaven shall not admit them to enter in. Woe also to 
rich men that have their consolations here; for, poor men 

2 78 Thomas & Kempis 

entering into the kingdom of heaven, they shall stand 
without, wailing. Joy, ye meek folk, and be glad ye poor; 
for yours is the kingdom of God so that ye go in truth. 



LORD what is the trust that I have in this life or what is my 
greatest solace of all things appearing under heaven? 
Whether not thou my Lord of whose mercy is no num- 
ber? Where was it well with me without thee or when 
might it be evil, thou being present? I had liever be poor 
for thee than rich without thee. I choose rather to be a 
pilgrim with thee in earth than to have heaven without 
thee. Where thou art there is heaven: and where thou 
are not there is death and hell. Thou art my desire and 
therefore after thee it is needful to mourn, to cry and to 
pray. I may fully trust in none that may help me in 
opportune necessities but only in thee my God. 

Thou art mine hope, thou art my trust, thou my comfort and 
most faithful in all things. All other ask and seek their 
own advantages; thou pretendest only mine health and 
my profit and turnest all things to me into good. Yea 
though thou lay me out to divers temptations and ad- 
versities, all that thou ordainest to my profit, that art 
wont to prove thy chosen children in thousands of man- 
ners. In the which proving thou oughtest no less to be 
loved and praised than if thou fulfilledst me with heav- 
enly consolations. 

In thee therefore my Lord God I put all mine hope and all 
my refuge. In thee therefore I set all my tribulation and 
my anguish for I find all infirm and unstable whatever 
I behold outside thee. For many friends shall not avail 
nor many helpers shall not be able nor many wise coun- 
sellors give profitable counsel nor books of doctors give 

The Imitation of Christ 2 79 

comfort nor precious substance of good deliver nor any 
secret or merry place make sure if thou be not assistant 
helping, comforting, informing and keeping. For all 
things that seem to be for the getting of peace and 
felicity, thou being absent, are not worth nor in truth 
give anything belonging to true felicity. 

Thou therefore art the end of all good, the height of life, the 
depth of scriptures; and to hope in thee above all is the 
most mighty solace of thy servants. To thee are mine 
eyes dressed (directed) , my God, father of mercies. Bless 
and sanctify my soul with an heavenly blessing, that it 
may be thy holy habitation and the seat of thine ever- 
lasting glory: and that nothing be found in the temple 
of thy dignity that may offend the eyes of thy majesty. 

Look upon me according to the greatness of thy goodness and 
the multitude of thy pities and hear the prayer of thy 
poor servant being in exile all afar in the region of the 
shadow of death. Defend and keep the soul of thy little 
servant among so many perils of this corruptible life, 
and, thy grace going with him, direct him by the way ot 
peace to the country of everlasting clearness. Amen. 


Here beginneth the fourth book of the following Jesu Christ 
and of the contemning of the world. Imprinted at the 
commandment of the most excellent Princess Margaret 
mother unto our sovereign lord King Henry the VII 
Countess of Rychemount and Derby, and by the same 
Princess it was translated out of French into English in 
form and manner ensuing, the year of our Lord God 


COME to me, saith our merciful Lord, all that labour and be 
charged and I shall give unto you refection. And the bread 
that I shall give unto you shall be my flesh for the life of the 
world. Take and eat it for it is my body that for you shall be 
given in sacrifice. Do ye this in remembrance of me. For whoso 
cateth my flesh and drinketh my blood he shall dwell in me 
and I in him. These words that I have said unto you be life 
and spirit of health. 




O MY Lord Jesu Christ, eternal truth, these words before said 
be thy words, albeit they have not been said in one time 
nor written in one place yet for that they be thy words 
I ought faithfully and agreeably to understand them. 

They be thy words and thou hast proffered them; and they be 
now mine for thou hast said them for my health. I will 
gladly receive them from thy mouth to the end that they 
may be better sown and planted in my heart. Thy words 
of so great pity, full of love and sweetness, greatly excite 
me; but Lord my proper sins fear and draw back my 
conscience, not pure enough to receive so great a mys- 

The sweetness of thy words incite and provoke me; but the 
multitude of my sins charge and sore grieve me. 

Thou commandest that I shall come unto thee faithfully if 
I will have part with thee to the end that I may receive 
the nourishment of immortality if I desire to obtain the 
joy and life eternal. 

Thou sayest, Lord, "Come ye to me all that labour and be 
charged and I shall refresh you." 

O how sweet and amiable a word is that in the ear of a sinner 
that thou, my Lord and God, listest of thy benign grace 
to bid me that am so poor and have so much need to the 
communion of thy precious body. O good Lord, what am 
I to presume to desire thee whom the heaven and earth 
may not comprehend: and thou sayest "Come ye all to 
me." What is this condescension and amiable bidding? 

How shall I dare come unto thee, I who feel not that I have 
done any manner of good? 

2 82 Thomas a Kempis 

How shall I entertain thee in my house, I who so often have 
offended before thy glorious and right benign face? 

The angels and archangels honour thee: the holy and just 
creatures dread thee and thou sayest, good Lord, "yet 
come ye all unto me." Lord, who should believe this thing 
to be true, if thyself did not say it? 

And who is he that durst approach thereunto if thou didst not 
command it? 

Noah, that just man, laboured for an hundred year to make 
the ark to the end that he might be saved with a few of 
his people. How may I prepare me then in an hour to 
receive thee with due reverence composer and creator of 
the world? 

Moses, thy great familiar and special friend, made the ark 
of timber not corruptible which he covered with right pure 
gold and put in it the tables of the Law; and I, a corrupt 
creature how shall I now dare receive thee that are the 
maker of the Law and giver of grace and life unto all 

The righteous Solomon, King of Israel, edified a rich temple 
to the praising and worshipping of thy name by the space 
of vii year and for viii days hallowed the feast of the dedi- 
cation of the same: he offered a thousand victims to 
pacify thy goodness with and put the ark of the Covenant 
in the place made ready for the same with the sound of 
clarions and trumpets. 

How dare I then, cursed and right poor among other crea- 
tures, receive thee into my house, I who scarce can know 
that I have well passed and employed one hour of time 
nor to my knowledge that I have devoutly passed one 
half hour. 

O blessed Jesu, how many there have been before me that 
have studied to do anything that might please thee; alas, 
how little a thing is it that I do albeit the time is short. 
And yet when I dispose myself to receive thy holy com- 
munion I am but loosely gathered together and full 
coldly purged from all distractions of mind ; and certainly 

The Imitation of Christ 283 

no thoughts unprofitable ought to come into the holy 
presence of thy deity. 

Also I ought not to occupy me with any creature for I shall 
not receive an angel but the Lord of angels into the secret 
of my heart. 

For there is a great difference between the ark of the Covenant 
with his relics and the right pure and precious body with 
this virtues not failing but evermore enduring; and be- 
tween the sacrifice of the prefigurative Law that was to 
come and the true victim thy precious body that is the 
accomplishment of all the old sacrifice. 

Wherefore then should not I be more inflamed in thy ven- 
erable presence and with more solicitude prepare myself 
to receive the sacred and holy gifts and benefits of thee, 
inasmuch as the holy ancient patriarchs and prophets, 
kings and princes, with all the people, have showed so 
great affection towards thine honour and divine service in 
time past. 

The right devout King David inclined to the ark of God with 
all his strength acknowledging and remembering the 
benefits done unto his fathers: he made organs of divers 
manners, and he composed psalms and instituted that 
they should be sung and he himself sang them with glad- 
ness and often times with the harp of the Holy Ghost. 
This king was inspired with the grace of God for he 
taught the people of Israel to praise God with all their 
hearts, blessing, honouring and preaching daily his holy 

If so great devotion and remembrance was done with divine 
service and praise before the ark of his testament how 
great reverence and devotion ought we then to have in 
the presence of the sacrament and in the assumption of 
the right excellent body of our Lord Jesu Christ. 

Also all Christian people use for to run to divers places for 
to visit the relics of saints and marvel to hear the mar- 
vellous deeds and works of them. They behold the great 
edifices or buildings of temples and kin the sacrificed 

284 Thomas <J Kempis 

bones of saints wrapped in cloth of silk and gold and 
thou my Lord God, saint of all saints, creator of all 
things, Lord of all angels, thou art present on this altar 
here before me. 

Oftentimes the curiosity of men and the novelties of things 
not yet seen be of little fruit and less to be set by; prin- 
cipally where there is so light recourse to them and great 
wavering without any contrition; but, my God, thou art 
all present in this blessed sacrament of the altar, very 
God and man, Jesu Christ, in whom the fruit eternal of 
health aboundeth and is perceived at all times when thou 
art worthily received. 

And to this not any lightness of sensual curiosity draweth us 
but firm faith, devout hope and pure charity. 

O God invisible, creator of all the world, how marvellously 
dost thou with us, how faithfully dost thou with them 
that do purpose to receive thyself in this blessed sacra- 

Certainly it surmounteth all understanding and draweth espe- 
cially the hearts of devout people to devotion and em- 
braceth their affection; for thy true and faithful friends 
that dispose all their life to amend themselves receive 
often great grace of devotion and virtue from that most 
worthy sacrament. 

O marvellous hid grace which all manner of faithful Christian 
people of our Lord Jesu Christ only know; but the infidels 
and subjects unto sin may thereof have no experience. 

In that sacrament the spiritual graces be confirmed and the 
virtue that was lost in the soul is repaired and beauty, 
by sin wasted, is recovered. 

Sometimes this grace is so great that often with the plenitude 
of devotion not only the mind but also the feeble body 
feels its might and strength augmented; wherefore it 
behoveth us to have sorrow and pity for our sloth and 
negligence that we are not drawn with so great desire 
and affection to receive our Lord Jesu Christ in whom 
is all hope and the merit of them that ought to be saved: 

The Imitation of Christ 285 

for he is our health and redemption and the consolation 
of travellers and the eternal fruition of saints. 

Also we ought to have sorrow that so many understand, savour 
and reverence so little this holy sacrament which re- 
joiceth heaven and keepeth all the world. 

Alas for this blindness and hardness of men's hearts that will 
not consider so singular and also so inestimable a gift as 
is given unto us but it falleth into inadvertence by daily 
and accustomable usage. 

For if the sacrifice of this holy sacrament were done openly 
but in one place and but by one priest in all the world 
with how great desire, think ye, the people would go to 
that place and to that priest to hear the godly mysteries 
done by him ; but now be made many priests and in many 
places this holy sacrament is offered to the end that the 
grace and love of God to man may the more appear for- 
asmuch as this holy communion is spread throughout th 

Thanks be unto thee, good pastor eternal, that hast vouch- 
safed to refresh and feed us poor banished creatures with 
thy right precious body and blood and also by the words 
of thine own mouth hast desired us to receive this holy 
mystery saying "Come ye all unto me that be charged 
and I will refresh you." 



O MY God, I come unto Thee putting my confidence in Thy 
mercy and bounty; I sigh and come unto my Saviour; I, 
hungry and thirsty, unto the fountain of life; poor and 
needy unto the King of heaven; the servant unto his 
Lord, the creature unto his maker, a person desolate unto 
his piteous comforter. 

286 Thomas & Kempis 

But wherefore is this that thou comes t thus unto me? who 
am I that thou wilt give thus thine own self to me? How 
dare I so simple and poor a sinner be bold to appear 
before thee and how can it please thee to come unto such 
a wretch? 

Thou knowest thy servant and well understandest that noth- 
ing is good in him why thou shouldst do this grace unto 

Then do I confess my unworthiness and acknowledge thy 
bounty and praise thy pity and give unto thee thanks 
for thy so much great charity; and thou doest this for 
thyself, good Lord, and not for my merit, to the end 
that thy bounty may the more be known unto me. 

Thy charity is more largely verified and thy meekness com- 
mended more perfectly since it thus pleaseth thee and 
also thou hast commanded it to be done; this thy pleas- 
ure contenteth me and, with my will, my wickedness 
shall not resist against thee. 

sweet and benign Jesu how great reverence and thanks- 

giving with perpetual praise be due unto thee, my good 

Lord, Jesu Christ, that by thy pleasure and will I may 

receive thy blessed body whose worthiness no man is 

found able to declare or express. 
But what shall I think of this communion when I shall come 

unto thee my Lord God, which I cannot duly honour, and 

yet I desire devoutly to receive thee. 
What may I think better and more profitable for me than to 

humble myself wholly before thee and to praise thine 

infinite bounty above all things. 

1 praise thee my Lord God everlasting and dispraise my- 

self and submit me unto the deepness of my wretch- 
edness. O my God thou art saint of all saints and I the 
filth of all sinners, yet thou inclinest thyself unto me 
that am not worthy to behold thee. 

Alas my sweet creator that so meekly comest unto me and 
wiliest to be with me and desirest me unto thy dinner 
and givest unto me the meat of heaven and the bread 

The Imitation of Christ 287 

of angels which is bread of life and no less thing than 
thyself which didst descend from heaven and give life 
unto the world ; let us see here what great love proceedeth 
from thee and what gentleness doth shine upon us. 

How great yieldings of thanks and love be due unto thee from 
us sinners. O how profitable and how healthful was 
thy counsel when thou didst institute and ordain this 
gracious gift. O how sweet and joyous is that feast 
wherein thou hast given unto us the feeding of thy 
precious body. 

O good Lord how marvellous be thy operations and how 
mighty is thy virtue and thy truth unable to be told. 
Thou hast said and all things were done and all that 
thou hast commanded hath taken effect. 

A marvellous thing to be believed and far above the under- 
standing of man that thou, my Lord God, very God and 
man, art wholly contained under a little likeness of bread 
and wine and thou art wholly received without consum- 
ing him that so receive th thee. 

Thou, Lord of all, that hast no need of any manner of thing 
yet thou hast willed to inhabit within us by this thy 
holy sacrament. Lord, keep my heart and my body unde- 
filed to the end that with a pure and joyous conscience 
I may often receive to my everlasting health these holy 
mysteries which be instituted and ordained chiefly unto 
thine honour and perpetual remembrance. 

O my soul, rejoice thee and give thanks unto thy God for his 
noble gift and singular comfort that it will please him 
here in this vale of tears thus to comfort thee. For as 
oftentimes as thou rememberest this mystery and re- 
ceivest this blessed body of our Lord, so often thou 
receivest the work of thy redemption and art made 
partner of all the merits of our Lord Jesu Christ. For his 
charity is never minished and the greatness of his mercy 
is never consumed; wherefore thou oughtest to dispose 
thee alway with a new revolving of thy thought and 

288 Thomas 4 Kempis 

oughtest to consider this great mystery of thy health by 
attentive raising of thy soul. 

And this work ought to be unto thee as greatly new and 
joyous when thou receivest it as if that same day our 
Lord had first descended into the womb of the Virgin 
Mary to be made man; or as if he that day had suffered 
death for the health of man upon the cross. 



LORD I come unto Thee to the end that wealth may come unto 
me of Thy gift and that I may joy at the holy feast that 
Thou hast made ready unto me, poor wretch, by thy 
sweet benignity in the which my Saviour is all that I may 
or ought to desire: for Thou art my health, my redemp- 
tion, my strength, honour and joy. 

Alas my Lord God make thy daily servant joyous. For my 
Lord Jesu I have raised my soul unto thee and now de- 
sire devoutly and reverently to receive thee into my 
house to the end that I may deserve with Zacchaeus to 
be blessed of thee and to be accompted among the chil- 
dren of Abraham. 

My soul desireth thy body, my heart desireth to be united 
only with thee. Give thyself unto me good Lord and then 
I am sufficed, for without thee no consolation nor com- 
fort is good; without thee I may not be and without 
thy visitation I may not live; wherefore it behove th me 
oftentimes to come and approach to thy high presence 
to receive thee for the remedy of my health to the intent 
I fail not in the way of this mortal life if I am defrauded 
of thy spiritual nourishing. 

Also my right merciful Lord Jesu when thou hast preached 
unto the people and healed them of divers sickness thou 

The Imitation of Christ 289 

hast said "I will not leave them fasting and without any 
refection lest peradventure they might fail in their way." 

Do with me then, good Lord, in that manner since thou hast 
left this holy sacrament for the comfort of all faithful 
people; for thou art the sweet refection of the souls of 
them that have worthily received and eaten thee and 
they shall be partners and also inheritors of the eternal 

Certain it is unto me necessary who so often sins and so soon 
cools and at every hour fails to come unto the end that 
by continual orisons and confessions and by the receiv- 
ing of thy holy body I may purify and renew the heat 
of my refection. For peradventure in abstaining too long 
to receive thee, I may leave, forget and run from my 
good purpose. 

For the wit of man and woman from their childhood be in- 
clined unto all evil, and also if that this divine and godly 
medicine help us not, innocent we fall unto worse. Then 
this holy communion draweth men from evil and com- 
forteth them again in goodness for I am many times very 
negligent and very often cooled when that I commune or 
worship my God. What should I then do if I took not that 
medicine and asked of him grace and help? 

And albeit I am not alway well disposed to receive thy crea- 
ture yet shall I put me unto pain to receive those sacred 
mysteries in time convenient so that I may be made 
partner of so great grace. For it is one of the most prin- 
cipal and greatest consolations unto faithful souls all the 
time they shall make their pilgrimage in this mortal 
body and to the intent we may have the more mind of 
thy benefits. 

My Lord God I shall more often receive thee, my loving Lord,, 
with a devout thought. marvellous gentleness of thine 
unspeakable pity towards us that thou, Lord God, creator 
and giver of life unto all spirits, hath willed to come to 
one so poor a soul with thy deity and humanity and hath 
granted to my poor lean and dry soul to be made fat 

290 Thomas d Kempis 

with thy grace and thy holy unction of thy sweet spirit. 

O happy thought and well happy soul that deserveth devoutly 
to receive his God his Lord and creator and in that 
receiving to be fulfilled with joy and spiritual gladness. 

O what great Lord receivest thou. O what and how great an 
host entertainest thou into thy lodging, how joyous a 
fellow takest thou into thy house, how faithful a friend 
thou admittest unto thee, and how good noble and sweet 
a spouse embracest thou which ought to be beloved and 
desired above all things. 

O right sweet beloved Lord, the heaven and earth and all the 
ornaments of them hold silence in the presence of thy 
face. For what praise, honour and beauty they have it is 
of thy mercy and largeness and cannot be like unto the 
honour and beauty of thy holy name and of thy wisdom, 
whereof there is no number neither end. 



MY LORD God I humbly beseech thee to prevent me thy 
servant in the blessings of thy sweet meekness, so that 
I may deserve to come worthily and devoutly to the holy 
sacrament most to be magnified. Stir my heart and loose 
it from the dull heaviness of my mortal body. Visit me 
with the messenger of health and give me to taste thy 
sweetness spiritual which is hid fully in the sacrament 
as in a fountain of all sweetness. Illumine mine eyes to 
behold this great mystery and strongly confirm me to 
believe the faith undoub table; for it is thy work and 
not the power of man; it is thy holy ordinance and not 
(done) by man's device. For there is no man found able 
f himself to conceive and understand these holy mys- 
teries which pass the subtlety of angels. 

The Imitation of Christ 291 

Then how may I poor unworthy sinner which am but earth 
and ashes search and conceive so high and holy secrecy? 
Lord I come unto thee in simpleness of heart and in firm 
faith and by thy commandment and with meek hope 
and reverence. And truly I believe that thou art here 
present in this holy sacrament, very God and man. 

And thou wilt I shall receive thee and join me unto thee by 
charity: wherefore I humbly pray and require that it 
may please thee to give unto me thy special grace so that 
I may be all relented and flow over with thy love in such 
wise that I shall not desire any other consolation. 

For this high worthy sacrament is the health of soul and 
body. It is the medicine of all spiritual sickness, in the 
which my sins be healed, passions be refrained, tempta- 
tions be overcome and minished, more great graces be 
given, the virtue begun increased, faith is established, 
hope is made strong and fortified, charity is burning and 
spread abroad. 

O my God the defender of my soul and the repairer of the 
weakness of man and the sender of all inward comfort, 
thou hast given and daily givest unto thy well beloved 
friends in this holy sacrament devoutly receiving it many 
advantages. For thou infusest into their souls great com- 
fort against divers tribulations and from the depth of 
their own overthrowing thou arisest them to the hope 
of thy divine help. And with a new grace thou inwardly 
renewest and lightenest them in such wise that though 
they feel before the receiving of the sacrament heavy 
and dull and overthrown and without affection and 
moisture, of devotion after that they have been fed with 
this heavenly meat and drink they have found them- 
selves changed with a marvellous joy: which things thou 
dost unto thy chosen people by dispensation of thy pure 
bounty so that they may truly know by open experience 
that they have nor may have nothing of themselves; and 
what grace or goodness they have, it cometh of thee. 

For of themselves they be cold, hard and undevout but of 

292 Thomas & Kempis 

thee they be made fervent, joyous and devout: for who 
is he that cometh meekly unto the fountain of sweet- 
ness and shall not bring some little quantity of sweet- 
ness therefrom? 

I shall alway put my mouth unto the hole of the heavenly 
pipe of that fountain so that I may at the least take a 
little drop to satisfy my thirst, so that I be not all dry; 
and though I may not be heavenly inflamed as the cher- 
ubim and seraphim yet will I enforce me to devotion and 
prepare my heart meekly to receive this holy loving sacra- 
ment and shall desire to be embraced with a little flame of 
that goodly love. 

O good Jesu, holy and right piteous saviour, whatsoever virtue 
or goodness faileth in me I benignly beseech thee gra- 
ciously of thy pity to supply it by thy great mercy. Thou 
that hast called all faithful creatures in saying unto them: 
Come ye all unto me that labour and be charged and I 
shall refresh you. 

But alas, good Lord, I poor sinner labour hi the sweat of my 
visage and am tormented with sorrow of heart. I am 
charged with sins and travailed with temptations, en- 
tricked and oppressed with many evil passions. And, Lord, 
there is none that may deliver me or make me safe but 
thou, my only God and saviour, to whom I commit me 
and all my causes to the end thou keep me and lead me 
to the life eternal. 

Receive me unto the praise of thy name that hast made ready 
unto me thy precious body and blood for meat and drink. 
My Lord God and saviour grant unto me by thy great 
bounty that in customable (accustomed) receiving of 
thy holy mystery the affection and desire of my devotion 
may be increased. 

The Imitation of Christ 293 



IF THOU hadst the purity of angels and the holiness of Saint 
John Baptist, thou shouldst not be worthy to receive or 
treat of that holy sacrament: for that is not due to the 
merits of men that a man should consecrate and treat 
of the sacrament of this blessed body of Jesu Christ and 
take in meat the bread of angels. 

O the great mystery and the marvellous dignity of priests 
unto whom is given that that is not granted unto the 
angels. For the priests only, duly ordered in the church 
of Christ, have power to do and to consecrate the holy 
body of Jesu Christ. Certainly the priest is the minister 
of God using the word of God by the commandment and 
ordinance of God. 

But God is the principal and invisible worker to whom be 
submitted all creatures to be ordered after his will and 
all to obey his commandment. Then thou oughtest more 
to believe in almighty God and in that right excellent 
sacrament than in thine own will or any other visible 
token: And therefore to this holy work thou oughtest to 
come with great dread and reverence. 

Take good heed then and see from whom this mystery is given 
unto thee and that is by the putting to of the hands of 
the Bishop thou art admitted unto that high room. Be- 
hold now thou art made a priest and consecrated to do 
this holy mystery. See then that faithfully and devoutly 
and in due time thou offer thy sacrifices unto God and 
show thyself irreprovable and without fault. 

Thou hast not loosed thy charge (lightened thy burden) of 
living but hast bound thee with a more strait bond of 
discipline and art holden to a more great perfection of 
holiness. Also the priest ought to be adorned with all 

294 Thomas d Kempis 

virtues and to give to all their example of good and holy 

His conversation ought not to be with common people or the 
ways of common men but with the angels in heaven or 
with the perfect men in the earth. The priest clothed with 
holy vestments occupieth the room of our Lord Jesu 
Christ to the end that he may right humbly pray unto 
God for himself and also for all others. For he hath both 
before him and behind him the very sign of the cross that 
he may continually remember the passion of our Lord 
Jesu Christ. Before him he beareth the cross to the end 
that he may diligently behold the traces and the example 
of our Lord Jesu Christ and that he may fervently study 
to follow them. Behind him also he is signed with the 
cross to the intent he should suffer for the honour of God 
all adversities and injuries done unto hirq. of other. Be- 
fore him he beareth the cross for that he should bewail 
properly his sins; and behind him likewise to sorrow 
with great compassion for the sins of others and to know 
himself that he is a man between God and the sinner: 
And that he should depart not from orison and from that 
holy oblation till he deserves to purchase the grace of 
God. When the priest saith mass he honoureth God, he 
giveth joy unto the angels, he edifieth the church, he 
helpeth the loving people, he giveth rest to them that 
be passed and maketh himself partner of all good works. 



LORD when I think of thy worthiness and of my great filthiness 
I tremble strongly and am confounded in myself. For if 
I receive thee not I flee the eternal life and if I unworthily 

The Imitation of Christ 295 

receive thee I run into thy wrath. What shall I then do, 
my good Lord, my helper, protector, comforter, and right 
sure counsellor hi all mine infirmities and necessities? 
Teach me good Lord thy right way, and purpose unto me 
some exercise fit to the receiving of this holy mystery. 
For it is necessary unto me and greatly profitable to 
know how devoutly and reverently I ought to prepare my 
heart to receive this holy sacrament or to make so goodly 



THE priest above all things ought to desire with sovereign 
reverence and profound meekness of heart, full and firm 
faith, humble hope and piteous (pious) intent to the 
honour of God to celebrate, take and receive this worthy 
sacrament, to examine diligently and make clear and 
open the conscience by true contrition and make con- 
fession as far as he hath power, so that thou know noth- 
ing that grieves thee or bites thy said conscience or lets 
(hinders) thee freely to come unto the same daily. 

To have displeasure of all thy sins in general and for thine 
excesses and sins thou oughtest to have sighing and sor- 
row more special. And if the time suffer it confess unto 
God in secret of thy heart the miseries of all thy passions, 
weep and have sorrow that thou art yet so carnal and 
worldly and so ill mortified from thy passions, so full of 
motions and lusts, so ill composed and ordered in thy 
outward wits, so often applied unto vain fantasies, so 
much inclined unto outward things, so negligent in the 
inward spiritual things, so ready to laughter and to all 
dissolution, so hard to weep and to compunction, so ready 
to follow the loose manner and the pleasures of the flesh, 
so slow and dull to the fervour of virtue, so curious to 

296 Thomas d Kempis 

behold and to hear new fair things, so negligent and loath 
to learn and desire things that be meek and abject, so 
covetous to receive and possess many goods, and so scarce 
(sparing) to give them and glad to hold and retain them, 
so evil advised in speaking and so incontinent to be still, 
so unordered in manners, so importune in thy deeds, so 
greedy and so quick in thy meat, so deaf unto the word 
of God, so ready to rest, so unhasty to labour, so waking 
to fables, so sleepy to holy vigils, so negligent unto the 
service of God, so speedy to the end thereof, so wavering 
to take heed, so cold in devotion in the time of the mass, 
so dry in receiving of the sacrament, so soon withdrawn, 
so seldom well gathered unto thyself, so suddenly moved 
unto wrath, so easily stirred to the displeasure of others, 
so hasty to judge, so rough in reproving, so joyous in 
prosperity, so weak in adversity, so often purposing many 
good things and bringing little to effect. 

These and other thy defaults with sorrow and great displeas- 
ure of thine own frailty must be confessed and sorrow- 
fully be wept. Set thee then with full purpose always to 
amend thyself and to perfect thee from better unto bet- 
ter; and, after, offer thyself with plain resignation and 
entire will to the honour of my name a perpetual sacri- 
fice within the altar of thine heart. 

Then, thy soul and body commit faithfully unto me, that 
thou so may deserve worthily to come and offer thy sacri- 
fice to God and to receive the sacrament of my body 
healthfully. For no oblation is more worthy and no satis- 
faction can be so great for to deface the sins of man as to 
offer himself to God purely and entirely with the oblation 
of the holy body of Christ Jesu in the mass and the holy 

Ai id they who ever shall do as much as lieth in them and have 
true repentance of their offences past, as oft as they shall 
come unto me, they shall recover pardon and grace. 

I am Life and will not the death of a sinner, but rather will 
that he return and live again. And then will I no more 

The Imitation oj Christ 297 

remember his sins and trespass but all shall be forgiven 
and pardoned unto him. 



O MAN, as I did offer myself and my free-will unto God my 
father, my hands spread on the cross, and my body naked 
for thy sins; insomuch that nothing remained in me, but 
all passed in sacrifice to appease His wrath, in like wise 
thou oughtest to offer unto me willingly thyself in pure 
oblation daily in the mass with all thine affections and 
strengths, as profoundly and fervently as thou mayest. 

What ask I of thee more but that thou study to resign thyself 
unto me entirely? What thing so ever thou givest me 
else I care not for. 

For I demand not thy gifts but only thyself. 

As nothing should suffice thee without me, likewise nothing 
may please me what soever thou shalt give if thou offer 
not thyself to me. 

Offer thee then, give thee wholly unto me: and that oblation 
shall be acceptable. 

Behold I did offer myself wholly unto my father for thee, 
and for thee I did give all my body and blood, to the 
end that I should be all wholly thine, and thou mine also. 

But and if thou rest in thyself and present thee not with good 
will unto me then there is no full oblation neither entire 
perfect union between us; for the free oblation of thyself 
into the hands of almighty God ought to go before all 
thy works, if thou wouldst obtain liberty and grace. 

And the lack of this is the cause that so few folk be illumined 
and have inward liberty, for they cannot renounce them- 

Thomas d Kempis 

My sentence is firm and stable, that none may be my disciple, 

without he renounceth all that he hath. 
Then if thou desire to be my disciple offer thyself unto me 

with all thine affection. 



LORD, all things that be in heaven and in earth be thine, and 
my willing desire is to offer me unto thee perpetually in 
oblation, so that I may be thine everlastingly. 

And this day, good Lord, I offer unto thee myself perpetually 
for ever more to be thy servant with my heart and soul 
fully to continue. I beseech thee receive this holy oblation 
of me that am unworthy to offer me unto thy precious 
body in the presence of angels assisting invisible, to the 
end that it may be to the health of one and all thy people. 
Lord I also offer unto thee all my sins which I have com- 
mitted before thee and thy holy angels since the first day 
I began or in any wise might sin unto this present day. 
And I beseech thee to inflame me with the burning fire of 
charity and to deface and put away all the conditions of 
my sins. Cleanse my conscience from all sin and restore 
it unto thy grace which by sin I have lost. And perfectly 
pardon me of all mine offences that I may receive per- 
fectly the sweet kiss of peace. What can I do more for 
my sins but meekly confess them with sorrowful weeping 
and incessantly praying to thee of thy piteous mercy? 

I beseech thee Lord exalt me and be ready unto me when I 
am before thee. O my good Lord greatly all my sins dis- 
please me and by thy grace I will never begin them 
again; but ever shall have sorrow for them as long as I 
shall live and shall be ready to do penance and make 
satisfaction to the best of my little power. Wherefore now 

The Imitation of Christ 299 

good Lord pardon me of my great and abominable sins 
and for the honour of thy holy name save my soul which 
thou hast dearly bought with thy most precious blood. 
And I commit me good Lord unto thy great mercy and 
resign me wholly unto thy hands. Do with me Lord after 
thy bounty and not after my malice and iniquity. 

Also I offer unto thee all my deeds that I have done albeit 
they be full few and imperfect that thou mayst sanctify 
and amend them as they be agreeable and acceptable 
unto thee. And always good Lord draw me from better 
to better and conduct and lead me slothful and unworthy 
sinner unto a good and lawful end. 

In like wise I offer unto thee the desires of all devout persons, 
the necessities of my kinsfolk and friends and of all them 
that have done me good or be dear unto me and all other 
for thy love, and they that have desired or required me 
to make sacrifice for their friends, living or past the 
world, so that they may feel help, Consolation, Defence, 
and Preservation from all perils, and deliverance of pains 
by thy grace so that they may yield unto thee joy and 
gladness with magnifying and praise for their deliverance. 

I offer unto thee also prayer and holy oblations for all them 
specially that have caused unto me heaviness, hurt, or 
any manner of damage; and likewise for them that I 
have troubled, grieved, vexed or slandered in words or 
deeds, knowingly or ignorantly, to the end, blessed Lord, 
that we all may be pardoned of our offences done the 
one against the other. And good Lord Jesu take from 
our heart all suspicion, wrath and indignation, and all 
that may break or let (hinder) charity, or diminish us 
from thine eternal love. 

O Lord, have pity; blessed Jesu, have pity; and give thy 
mercy unto all them that ask it and thy grace unto them 
that have need. And make us so worthy to have thy 
grace that we may go unto the life eternal. Amen. 

3OO Thomas & Kempis 



IT BEHOVETH thec of ten to return unto the fountain of grace, 
mercy, bounty, pity and purity that thou mayst be 
cleansed from thy vices and passions, so that thou mayst 
be made more strong and waking against all temptations 
and subtle crafts of the fiend. 

For thine enemy knowing the great fruit and remedy in re- 
ceiving of this holy sacrament, striveth, by all manner 
of occasions that he may, to draw thee unto him again 
and hindereth the faithful and devout people when any 
dispose them to the receiving of this holy communion. 

The enemy, Satan, putteth to them the most grievous tempta- 
tions that he may. Also, it is written in the history of 
Job, this evil spirit cometh among the children of God 
to the end that by his cursed custom he perturbeth, per- 
plexeth and maketh them fearful, diminishing their af- 
fection and impugning them of their faith, so that per- 
adventure they leave their good purpose in respect of 
that holy body which they at that time come for to 

But we should take no thought nor fear of the crafty wiles 
of that false enemy that be so foul and horrible, but all 
such fantasies we should cast again at the head of that 
wicked spirit. 

It is a poor mischievous spirit, that so letteth (hindereth) 
and mocketh us; and for any assaults or commotions that 
he exciteth, this holy sacrament ought not to be left. 

Also oftentimes too great solicitude for devotion hindereth 
us, and sometimes seriousness about the confession to 
be made. But do after the counsel of the wise and take 
away this anxiety and stryple (scruple) : for it hindereth 
the grace of God and destroyeth devotion. 

The Imitation of Christ 301 

And leave not the holy receiving of Jesu Christ for little tribu- 
lation, dejection or faint heart; but with good will go 
to the confessor, and pardon all other that have offended 
thee; and if thou have offended any other, meekly ask 
forgiveness. And then dread not but God will pardon 

What profiteth it long to tarry from confession or to defer 
the receiving of thy blessed saviour? First purge thee 
and cast out the venom and then haste thee to take the 
remedy, and thou shalt feel the much better than if thou 
hadst deferred it. 

For if thou this day leave the holy receiving for coldness of 
devotion and feebleness of mind, peradventure to-morrow 
thou shalt find thyself more slack, and withdraw so long 
that thou shalt find thyself much worse and more unable. 

Then as soon as thou mayst take away this feebleness of mind 
and the spice (species) of sloth; for to be always only in 
anguish and heaviness for thy sin, passing the time in 
tribulation and because of daily obstacles and imper- 
fections to withdraw thee from these divine mysteries 
without turning unto the pitiful merit of our saviour 
Christ Jesu, this profiteth thee not. 

But the long tarrying to receive thy saviour annoyeth thee 
greatly and maketh thee slow and shall bring daily unto 
thee a greater slothfulness. 

But, alas for sorrow, some cold and desolate persons gladly 
seek reasons for tarrying from confession and from the 
receiving of this holy sacrament; because they covet 
many delays lest they shall be bound to give themselves 
to a stricter manner in the ordering of their life. 

Alas how little charity and how slender devotion have they 
that put away so easily the receiving of this holy sacra- 

O how happy be they and agreeable unto almighty God who 
lead so holy a life that they keep their conscience in 
clean and pure fear, so that they may daily dispose 
themselves and make them ready and with great affec- 

302 Thomas d Kempis 

tion desire to receive that holy sacrament at all times, 
if it were lawful. 

Nevertheless sometimes by meekness to abstain or for other 
lawful causes that may hinder reverence, this is to be 

But if sloth or negligence keep him back he ought to 
endeavour himself as far as in him is, and our Lord shall 
be present to his desire and will specially behold his good 
will; but when he is lawfully hindered and have a 
good will and pious mind to receive his maker, he shall 
not fail to have the fruit of that blessed sacrament. 

For every person with perfect devotion may every day receive 
that holy sacrament spiritually to his health and with- 
out prohibition; and in certain times and days estab- 
lished he ought to receive the body of his saviour with 
effectual reverence sacramen tally ; and to seek and do it 
more to the praise and honour of God almighty than to 
his own consolation. 

For as often as he spiritually is communed and refreshed in- 
visibly so often he remembreth devoutly the mystery of 
the incarnation of Christ and his painful passion and is 
kindled in love of him; he that otherwise prepareth not 
himself except at the time of a great feast or else when 
compelled by custom he shall oftentimes be full unready. 

Blessed is he that offers himself unto almighty God as of t as 
he doth the mass or else receives this honourable sacra- 

And in doing this mystery, tarry not nor be too hasty but 
keep the common manner with such as thou livest among. 
Thou oughtest not to do so that the hearers thereof take 
grief or irksomeness but keep the common way after the 
ordinances of the holy fathers. And rather conform thee 
to the profit of others than to thine own devotion or 
private pleasure. 

The Imitation of Christ 303 



RIGHT sweet Jesu how great consolation and sweetness is 

it to a devout soul to eat with thee at thy dinner where 
none other meat is given but thyself which art the only 
lover and oughtest to be desired above all desires of man's 
heart: and how sweet a thing should it be in thy pres- 
ence from the bottom of the heart to send out tears, to 
dew and wash thy precious feet with the piteous Mag- 
dalen. But where is that devotion or the plenteous effu- 
sion of holy tears? 

Certainly in beholding thee with thy holy angels all my heart 
ought to burn and weep with joy: for I have verily thee 
present, though thou be hid under a strange likeness, for 
mine eyes may not suffer to behold thee in thy proper 
and godly clearness: nor might all the world abide to 
behold the clearness of thy joy and majesty. 

Wherefore, good Lord, thou helpest my weakness in that it 
pleaseth thee to cover thyself under the form of that holy 

1 verily worship thee whom the angels worship in heaven, but 

in me it is as yet but in faith and the angels worship thee 
there in thine own likeness without coverture. 

I must be content with true faith and so walk till the day 
come of eternal clearness when the shadow of figures shall 
vanish; for when that perfect day shall come the usage 
of this holy sacrament shall cease. 

For they that be blessed in heavenly joy shall have no need 
of any sacramental medicine: for they shall joy with- 
out end in the presence of God, seeing him in his glory 
face to face and shall be transformed from clearness unto 
clearness with the Godhead incomprehensible: they shall 

304 Thomas d Kempis 

taste the son of God made man as he was from the be- 
ginning and shall be everlastingly. 

I then remembering me of the great marvels and solace though 
it be spiritual, it is to me grievous when I remember those 
marvels. For all things that I hear or see in this world I 
count as nothing so long as I see not my Lord God in his 

Lord God, thou art my witness that nothing can give me com- 
fort nor no creature may give me rest but thou my Lord 
God whom I desire eternally to behold. 

But that is a thing to me not possible while that I am in this 
mortal life; wherefore it behoveth me with great patience 
to order myself and meekly to submit me unto thee in all 
my desires. 

Good Lord, the saints that now joy with thee in the kingdom 
of heaven abode the coming of the joy with great faith 
and patience as long as they lived. 

I believe the same that they did believe, and hope as they 
have hoped, and trust by the means of thy grace to come 
thither as they now be. 

In the meanwhile I shall in good and fast faith be comforted 
by examples of holy saints. Also I have full virtuous and 
holy books for the consolation and mirror of my life and 
also above all these things thy sacred body for my 
singular refuge and remedy. I feel that two things be 
unto me right necessary without which this miserable 
life should be unto me inportable. For as long as I shall 
be holden in this present body I confess me to have need 
of two things, that is to know (say) of meat and light. 

But therefore thou hast given unto me which am poor and 
sick thy holy body to the refreshing of my soul and 
body, and also thou hast put before my faith the light 
of thy holy word; and without these two things I may 
not well live spiritually; for thy word, my Lord and 
God, is the light of my soul and the holy sacrament is 
the bread of my life. 

These two things so necessary may also be called the tables 

The Imitation of Christ 305 

set on either side in the treasury of holy church; the one 
table is of the holy altar having this lovely bread, that 
is to say, the precious body of Jesu Christ; the other 
is the law of God containing the holy doctrine and show- 
ing the right faith and surely guiding me unto the in- 
ward sacrifice where are the holy jewels called Sancta 
Sanctorum (Holy of Holies) . 

I yield unto thee thanks Lord Jesu Christ which art the very 
clearness of eternal light for this table of holy doctrine 
which thou hast ministered unto us by thy servants, 
prophets, apostles and other doctors; and I yield unto 
thee thanks again, creator and redeemer of mankind, 
which hast declared thy great charity unto all the world 
and hast prepared this royal supper in the which thou 
hast not purposed to be eaten the figurative lamb but 
thy most holy body and precious blood rejoicing all thy 
creatures by that sacred banquet and sweetly fulfilling 
them with that healthful chalice, wherein be hid all the 
delights and joys of Paradise; and the holy angels be 
fed with us with sweetness very plenteous. 

O how great and honourable is the office of priests to whom 
is given power to consecrate by divine words, to bless 
with their lips, to hold with their hands, receive with their 
mouths and to minister unto other the Lord and God of 
all majesty. O how clean ought to be the hands, how 
pure the mouth, how holy the body and how undefiled 
the heart of a priest unto whom so often entereth the 
author of all purity. 

Certainly from the mouth of a priest ought no word to pro- 
ceed but that which is honest and profitable, that so often 
receiveth sacrament of the holy body of Jesu Christ; his 
eyes ought to be simple and shamefast that so custom- 
ably behold the holy body; the hands pure to lift up 
unto heaven which handle the creator of heaven and 
earth. For specially for a priest it is said in the law, Be 
ye holy for I your Lord God am holy. O God omnipotent 
thy grace be helping unto us that we which have taken 

306 Thomas it Kempis 

the office of priesthood may reverently and devoutly 
serve thee with all purity and good conscience and if we 
may not live in so great innocency of life as we ought to 
do, give us grace at the least that we may weep and 
sorrow for the evils that we have committed and done, 
so that in spiritual meekness and purpose of good will we 
may from henceforth strongly serve thee with fervent 





OUR Lord saith: I the lover of purity and the liberal giver of 
all holiness, I search the pure clean heart and there will 
I rest. Make ready then for me thine heart and I shall 
be with thee then as I was with my disciples at Easter 
(the Passover). 

I shall come and dwell with thee if thou wilt, but then it 
behoveth thee to purify and cleanse the habitation of 
thine heart from all sins, leave all bruit (sound) and 
noise of the world with all thy vices, and inclose and 
shut thee in thy chamber, as doth a solitary bird under 
the evesings (eaves) of a house, and remember all the 
excuses and all thy defaults committed; remember them 
with all thy soul and with bitterness of heart. 

For a good friend will make ready for his well beloved friend 
a good and a pleasant place to dwell in and in doing that 
it is well known with what good affection he receiveth 
his said friend. 

It is for truth that thou oughtest to understand that thou 
canst not give satisfaction by any merit or labour of thy- 
self, not and if thou diddest labour with the best of thy 
power by a whole year, though thou haddest none other 
thing to do. 

The Imitation of Christ 307 

But thou shall understand that by my power only and grace 
it is permitted and granted unto thee to come to my 
table and that if a poor man were called unto the table 
of a rich lord and the poor man had none other thing to 
give again for the benefit of that rich man but sweetly 
and meekly to thank him, he would do it. 

So oughtest thou to do diligently as much as is in thee and 
not by custom or necessity, but with all dread, reverence 
and affection thou oughtest to take the blessed body of 
our Lord God since that it pleaseth him to come unto 

Certainly I am he that calleth thee and I have commanded 
it so to be done and I shall supply that which faileth 
in thee; wherefore come and receive me and when in 
doing that I give unto thee grace of devotion, yield thou 
thanks unto me thy God, not thinking that thou art 
worthy thereof of thyself but that I have had mercy on 

And if thou have not that grace when thou wouldest but feel 
thyself dry and unlusty, yet continue thine orison with 
sorrowful weeping and smite at my door without ceasing 
unto the time that thou mayst receive a little crumb or 
drop of healthful grace and know of a truth thou hast 
much need of me and I have none of thee. 

Thou comest not to sanctify me but I am he that shall sanctify 
thee and make thee better to the end that thou mayst be 
united with me to receive new grace and to purpose 

Be not willing to defer my grace but with all diligence pre- 
pare thine heart to receive within thee thy loving Lord. 
And not only prepare thee before thy communion, but 
also maintain and keep thee after the receiving of thy 
said holy sacrament in that same devotion in as much as 
thou mayst: for thou oughtest to have no less diligence 
than thou hadst afore. 

For the good and diligent keeping of thy soul after the receiv- 
ing of the blessed sacrament is a good preparation to 

308 Thomas d Kempis 

obtain greater grace. And they that do not so, show 
themselves greatly evil-disposed when they abandon 
themselves so soon and so largely to outward solace and 
inward pleasures. 

Wherefore keep thee from great bruit (sound) and speaking 
and abide in the secret graces and fruits of thy God, 
for thou hast him that all the world may not take away; 
and I am he to whom thou oughtest to give thyself in 
such manner that from henceforth thou live no more 
in thyself but in me only. 



O LORD who shall grant me that I may find thee alone and 
that I may open to thee all my heart and joy with thee 
as my poor soul desireth and that here there be no crea- 
ture to behold me but thou alone to speak to me and I 
to thee, good Lord, as of custom one friend speaketh to 
another secretly. 

This I desire and pray thee, Lord Jesu, that I may be fully 
united unto thee and withdraw my heart from all other 
created things, that I may the sooner learn the eternal 
and heavenly things by means of the receiving of this 
holy sacrament. 

Alas, my good Lord, when shall I be united and gathered all 
wholly in thee and utterly forget myself? Thou art in 
me and I with thee and thus assembled make us dwell 
together I pray thee. 

Truly thou art my chosen and beloved Lord and it hath 
pleased thy benign grace to be inhabited in my soul all 
the days of my life. Thou art my peacemaker in whom 
is sovereign peace and true rest; without thee there is 
nothing but labour, sorrow and infinite misery. 

The Imitation of Christ 309 

Thou my God are dosed and hid and thy counsel is not shared 
by evil folks: but thy familiar speaking is with the meek 
and simple folks. 

O Lord, how good, benign and sweet is thy spirit which, that 
thou mayst show unto the sons and children thy sweet- 
ness, hast vouched safe to refresh them again and gives 
to them refection of thy right sweet bread descended 
from heaven. 

Certainly there is none other so great a nation, lacking Christ's 
faith, that hath their gods so near unto them as thou art, 
our God and Lord, to all thy faithful Christian people 
to whom thou givest thy blessed body to eat for their 
daily comfort and to raise their hearts to high celestial 
things. O what other folks be there so noble as the 
Christian people or what creature is there so strongly be- 
loved under heaven as is the devout soul in whom God 
entereth and giveth feeding with his own glorious flesh 
and blood. 

$race inestimable and marvellous worthiness. O love with- 
out measure singularly shewed unto man. But what shall 
I yield unto God? and wherewith shall I recompense this 
so great grace and charity? Truly there is nothing I may 
give more agreeable to his mercy than to join my heart 
perfectly unto him. 

And when my soul shall be perfectly united with him, then 
shall all my inward parts rejoice and then my Lord will 
say unto me, If thou wilt be with me I will be with thee, 
And I shall answer him, Blessed Lord I beseech thee dwell 
with me, for all the desire of my heart is to be with thee 
inseparable without departing. 

3io Thomas & Kentpis 



O LORD, how great is the multitude of thy sweetness which 
thou hast hid for them that dread thee. When I remem- 
ber me of many devout persons that have come to this 
thy holy sacrament with so great fervent affection and 
devotion I am then many times in myself confused and 
have great shame that I go unto the altar and table of 
that holy communion so rudely, with so cold devotion 
and am so dry without affection of heart. 

I am abashed that I am not all wholly inflamed in thy pres- 
ence and so strongly drawn and established as many good 
devout persons have been, which by the great desire of 
this holy sacrament and sensible love of heart might not 
contain nor withhold them from weeping, but effectually 
with mouth, heart and body come unto that good Lord 
as to the living fountain of all bounty and may not attain 
to fulfil their hunger unless they take thy holy body 
which they so desirously and spiritually may receive. 

O true and benign faith of them that prevably (truly) show 
the proof of thy holy presence; to them is verily known 
their God in the breaking of bread which burneth and 
broileth so strongly the heart of them in the love of Jesu 
Christ: certainly such affection, devotion and vehement 
burning love is far from me. 

O good sweet and benign Jesu be unto me piteous and ready 
to give and grant to thy poor beggar sometimes to feel 
a little of that hearty love and affection in the receiving 
of thy holy body to the end that my faith may be more 
firm and my hope more perfect in thy bounty; and my 
charity sometime so perfectly inflamed that I may experi- 
ently have the heavenly manna that never may fail: I 
know certainly the might of thy mercy may lend me thy 

The Imitation of Christ 311 

grace so much desired and visit me burningly with a burn- 
ing spirit when the day of thy good pleasure shall come. 
And though I be not inflamed with so great a desire of thy 
special devout things yet have I desire by thy grace to 
be inflamed with that burning love, praying the good Lord 
that I may be made partner with all such thy fervent 
lovers and that I may be numbered in their devout com- 
pany. Amen. 



IT BEHOVETH thee instantly to seek the grace of devotion and 
to ask incessantly, to abide it patiently and faithfully, 
joyously to receive it and meekly to conserve it, and 
with that studiously to remit unto God the time and the 
manner of his sovereign visitation unto the time his 
pleasure be to come unto thee: and principally thou 
oughtest to meek (humble) thee when thou feelest but 
little devotion within thee: and for all that thou oughtest 
not to let thyself to fall or sorrow too much inordinately: 
for full often our blessed Lord in a short moment giveti 
thee which before he hath long time denied: also some- 
time he giveth at the end of prayers that he did defer 
at the beginning of the same. 

If alway grace were so soon given that a man might have if 
at his will or wish, it should not be easily borne of a weak 
and imperfect soul. And therefore in good hope and meek 
patience the grace of devotion ought to be abided (waited 
for) and thou oughtest to impute it unto thyself and to 
thy sins when it is not given unto thee or when it is 
secretly taken away from thee. Some time a little thing 
It is that may let (hinder) or hide thy grace if that may 
be called little that letteth (hindreth) so great avail 

312 Thomas d Kempis 

But be it little or great if thou take that same away and 
perfectly overcome it thou shalt obtain that thou desirest 
as soon as thou with all thy heart hast given thyself to 
God. And therefore seek not this nor that at thy pleasure 
but put the whole in the hand of God and thou shalt 
certainly find thyself right with him and in great peace 
of soul; for there is nothing that ought to be so savoury 
and pleasant as is the pleasure and divine will of God. 

Then whosoever lif teth up his intent unto God with a simple 
perfect heart and so voideth and maketh him naked of all 
disordinate love or pleasure to any created things in all 
the world he is most meet to receive the gift of devotion; 
for our Lord gave his blessing there where he found the 
vessels clean and void; and the more perfectly that any 
renounce, mortify, despise and contemn themselves and 
all the low things, the sooner grace shall enter and copi- 
ously abound so that he shall feel his heart lift up as 
though it were set in freedom and then he shall see his 
heart largely abound and marvellously joy within him- 
self, for that the hand of God shall be over him and he 
shall submit him perpetually into his holy hands. 

And so shall the man be blessed that seeketh God with all 
his heart and his soul shall not be taken in vain works: 
but such an one certainly in the receiving the holy body 
of Jesu Christ meriteth and deserveth the grace of divine 
union with God. For he beholdeth not only his own de- 
votion and consolation but the great honour and glory 
of God. 



O RIGHT sweet and most beloved Lord whom I now desire 
to receive, thou, good Lord, knowest the sickness of 
soul and necessity that I suffer, in what evils and vices 

The Imitation of Christ 313 

I sleeping am put, how often grieved, tempted, troubled 
and dissolute. I come unto thee, Lord, to have consola- 
tion and comfort. I speak to thee Lord; thou knowest all 
my secret and inward thoughts which be manifest and 
open unto thee. It is thou only that perfectly mayst help 
me, for thou knowest what unto me is necessary and of 
what goods above all other I have most need. 

Albeit I am poor in virtue, alas, yet, merciful Lord, behold 
me here before thee poor and naked, demanding pite- 
ously thy sweet grace and mercy. And give thy poor 
beggar that dieth for hunger some of thy heavenly re- 
fection and chafe my cold heart with the burning flame 
of thy love. Illumine me that am blinded and cannot see 
with the clearness of thy presence; take away from my 
thought all the earthly and inward things and turn them 
into, and make me think them, foul and bitter and griev- 
ous and contrary unto me. 

And that I may take pleasure in the things that may please 
thee; and all earthly created things may I have in 
oblivion and turn my heart towards thee in heaven. And 
let me not waver nor err upon earth but be thou only 
my sweetness and consolation, my meat and drink, my 
love and all my joy; so that my will be changed, in- 
flamed, and burn all towards thee; so that I may be 
made a spirit and inwardly united unto thee by grace 
and burning love. 

And suffer me not, blessed saviour, to depart from thee fast- 
ing and dry with hunger and thirst, but do with me merci- 
fully as often thou hast marvellously done with thy holy 

What marvel it is to me that I am not all inflamed in thee 
seeing that thou art the burning fire always illumining 
and lightening the understanding of thy creatures. 

314 Thomas & Kempis 



O LORD GOD, in sovereign devotion, burning love and all 
fervent affection of heart I desire as many other holy and 
devout persons have desired to receive, who have been 
greatly pleasant by the holiness of their life and by great 

O my God and eternal love and my eternal felicity I by right 
great desire wish to receive thee as worthily and as 
reverently as ever did any of thy holy servants. Albeit 
that I am not worthy to have so great feelings of devo- 
tion, yet offer I unto thee the affections of my heart as 
truly as though I had all the burning and flaming desires 
that they had. 

Also I give and offer unto thee in sovereign reverence and 
veneration all that a good debonair heart may contain. 
And I will not nor do I covet to reserve anything to my- 
self but I offer and make sacrifice unto thee with free 
and perfect will of myself with all my goods. 

Lord God, my creator and redeemer, this day I desire to 
receive thee with such affection, reverence, praise, 
honour, worthiness and love and with such faith hope 
and purity as thy right holy mother and glorious Virgin 
Mary who conceived thee, when she answered meekly 
and devoutly unto the angel that showed unto her the 
holy mystery of the incarnation of thee, the son of God, 
"See here the handmaid of God; so be it done as thou 
hast said." 

And the right excellent precursor St. John Baptist that with 
great joy sprang in thy presence by inspiration of the 
Holy Ghost, then being in the womb of his mother; and 
afterward beholding thee Jesu walking meekly among 
men, he greatly humbling himself to the same with a 

The Imitation of Christ 315 

devout mind said: "The friend of the spouse standeth 
and hearkneth and with comfort rejoiceth for to hear 
the voice of the spouse." So I wish to be inflamed with 
great and holy desire and with all my heart present me 
unto thee. 

And I give and offer unto thee for me all the jubilations of 
devout hearts with burning affections, the excessive 
thoughts, the high and spiritual illuminations and the 
heavenly visions with all the virtues and praises, as well 
celebrated as those which shall be celebrated, of all the 
creatures of heaven and earth ; to the end that thou, Lord, 
be worthily praised and be perpetually glorified of all 
creatures; beseeching thee, Lord, to receive my prayers 
and my desire for thine infinite benediction and praises 
without end which rightly be due unto thee according to 
the great abundance and multitude of thine inestimable 
magnificence. And so my desire is to yield unto thee at all 
hours and all moments of time; and so I desire and be- 
seech all the heavenly spirits with all faithful Christian 
creatures to yield unto thee praises with effectual prayers. 

All the universal people praise thee. All generations and kinds 
magnify thy holy and sweet name in great joy and burn- 
ing devotion, and I pray that they who celebrate that 
right high and holy sacrament and receive it in plain 
faith and great reverence and devotion may merit well 
towards thee and find grace and mercy. 

And for me, wretched sinner, I meekly beseech thee, when I 
shall have a taste of that sweet union and devotion so 
much wished and desired that I may be fulfilled and fed 
so marvellously at that heavenly and holy table that at 
my departing from thence, thou, good Lord, wilt have 
ne, poor sinner, in thy piteous remembrance. 

316 Thomas & Kempis 



IT BEHOVES thee to keep thee from too curious inquisition of 
the right deep sacrament if thou wilt not be confounded 
in thine own fault and drowned in the depth of opinions. 
For he that will inquire of the high majesty of God, he 
shall anon be oppressed and thrust down from the glory 
of the same. God may open more than man may under- 

The devout and meek inquiry of truth is always ready to be 
instructed and taught; and if thou study to go by the 
holy and entire sentences of holy fathers, it is not re- 
provable but well to be praised. And that simpleness is 
well to be praised which leaveth the ways of difficulties 
and questions and goeth by the plain and firm path of 
the commandments of God. Many have lost their devo- 
tion in seeking so busily high unspeakable things. 

It is enough to demand of thee fast faith, pure and clean life, 
and not the high and subtle profound mysteries of God; 
for if thou canst not comprehend and understand that 
which is within thee, how canst thou then understand 
things that be above thee? 

Submit thee then meekly unto God and all thy understanding 
to the faith of holy church; and the light of true science 
shall be given unto thee such as shall be to thee most 
necessary and profitable. 

Some be greatly tempted with the faith of that holy sacra- 
ment but that is not to be reputed (set down) unto them 
but rather unto that cursed enemy the fiend. 

And therefore care not nor dispute not in thy thoughts nor 
answer not to the doubts that the enemy of hell bringetb 

The Imitation of Christ 317 

before thee; but firmly trust in the words of God and be- 
lieve in saints and holy prophets and then shall that 
cursed enemy soon fly from thee. It is often profitable 
that the servants of God suffer and sustain such assaults; 
for the enemy tempteth not the miscreants and unfaithful 
people, nor also the great sinners that he surely holdeth 
and possesseth; but he tempteth, travaileth and tor- 
menteth in divers manners the good faithful and Chris- 
tian creatures. 

And therefore keep thee always with meek true faith and 
doubt thee not but come unto this holy sacrament with 
long reverence, and that thou canst not understand com- 
mit unto almighty God for he shall not deceive thee but 
he shall be deceived that too much trusteth in himself. 

God walked with the simple people and showed himself 
openly unto the meek; he gave understanding unto 
them that were poor in spirit, and hid his grace and 
secrets from them that were proud, high and curious. 

For the human reason may lightly err and be deceived but 
the true faith may never deceive nor fail. All reason and 
natural inquiry ought to follow the true faith without 
further reasoning. Fast faith and true love surmounteth 
all curious inquiry principally in this matter and mar- 
vellously openeth to an understanding in secret manner 
of this holy and right excellent sacrament. 

O eternal God and without measure of height and bounty, 
which hast made the infinite great and wonderful things 
in the heaven and earth, none is sufficient to inquire into, 
understand or find the secrets of thy so marvellous works; 
and therefore they be called inestimable for man's reason 
neither may nor can comprehend thy works; to whom 
Lord God almighty be given laud and praise, without 
end. Amen. 

Thus endeth the jourth book following 
Jesu Christ and the contemning 
oj the world. 




CERTAINLY that man were greedy of Life, who should desire 
to live when all the world were at an end ; and he must needs 
be very impatient, who would repine at death in the society 
of all things that suffer under it. Had not almost every man 
suffered by the Press, or were not the tyranny thereof become 
universal, I had not wanted reason for complaint: but in times 
wherein I have lived to behold the highest perversion of that 
excellent invention, the name of his Majesty defamed, the 
Honour of Parliament depraved, the Writings of both de- 
pravedly, anticipatively, counterfeitly imprinted; complaints 
may seem ridiculous in private persons ; and men of my condi- 
tion may be as incapable of affronts, as hopeless of their repa- 
rations. And truely, had not the duty I owe unto the 
importunity of friends, and the allegiance I must ever acknowl- 
edge unto truth, prevailed with me, the inactivity of my 
disposition might have made these sufferings continual, and 
time, that brings other things to light, should have satisfied 
me in the remedy of its oblivion. But because things evidently 
false are not onely printed, but many things of truth most 
falsely set forth, in this latter I could not but think my self 
engaged: for, though we have no power to redress the former, 
yet in the other the reparation being within our selves, I have 
at present represented unto the world a full and intended 
Copy of that Piece, which was most imperfectly and surrep- 
titiously published before. 

This, I confess, about seven years past, with some others 
of affinity thereto, for my private exercise and satisfaction, 
I had at leisurable hours composed; which being communi- 
cated unto one, it became common unto many, and was by 
Transcription successively corrupted, untill it arrived in a 
most depraved Copy at the Press. He that shall peruse that 
work, and shall take notice of sundry particularities and per- 


322 Sir Thomas Browne 

sonal expressions therein, will easily discern the intention was 
not publick; and, being a private Exercise directed to my self, 
what is delivered therein, was rather a memorial unto me, 
than an Example or Rule unto any other; and therefore, if 
there be any singularity therein correspondent unto the 
private conceptions of any man, it doth not advantage them ; 
or if dissentaneous thereunto, it no way overthrows them. It 
was penned in such a place, and with such disadvantage, that, 
(I protest), from the first setting of pen unto paper, I had 
not the assistance of any good Book whereby to promote my 
invention or relieve my memory; and therefore there might 
be many real lapses therein, which others might take notice 
of, and more than I suspected my self. It was set down many 
years past, and was the sense of my conceptions at that time, 
not an immutable Law unto my advancing judgement at all 
times; and therefore there might be many things therein 
plausible unto my passed apprehension, which are not agree- 
able unto my present self. There are many things delivered 
Rhetorically, many expressions therein meerly Tropical, and 
as they best illustrate my intention ; and therefore also there 
are many things to be taken in a soft and flexible sense, and 
not to be called unto the rigid test of Reason. Lastly, all that 
is contained therein is in submission unto maturer discern- 
ments; and, as I have declared, shall no further father them 
than the best and learned judgments shall authorize them: 
under favour of which considerations I have made its secrecy 
publick, and committed the truth thereof to every Ingenious 




FOR my Religion, though there be several Circumstances that 
might perswade the World I have none at all, (as the general 
scandal of my Profession, the natural course of my Studies, 
the indifferency of my Behaviour and Discourse in matters of 
Religion, neither violently Defending one, nor with that 
common ardour and contention Opposing another) ; yet, in 
despight hereof, I dare without usurpation assume the hon- 
ourable Stile of a Christian. Not that I meerly owe this Title 
to the Font, my Education, or the clime wherein I was born, 
(as being bred up either to confirm those Principles my Par- 
ents instilled into my unwary Understanding, or by a general 
consent proceed in the Religion of my Country) ; but having 
in my riper years and confirmed Judgment seen and examined 
all, I find my self obliged by the Principles of Grace, and the 
Law of mine own Reason, to embrace no other Name but this. 
Neither doth herein my zeal so far make me forget the general 
Charity I owe unto Humanity, as rather to hate than pity 
Turks, Infidels, and (what is worse), Jews; rather contenting 
my self to enjoy that happy Stile, than maligning those who 
refuse so glorious a Title. 

But, because the Name of a Christian is become too gen- 
eral to express our Faith, (there being a Geography of Reli- 
gions as well as Lands, and every Clime distinguished not 
only by their Laws and Limits, but circumscribed by their 
Doctrines and Rules of Faith) ; to be particular, I am of that 
Reformed new-cast Religion, wherein I dislike nothing but 
the Name; of the same belief our Saviour taught, the Apostles 
disseminated, the Fathers authorized, and the Martyrs con- 
firmed; but by the sinister ends of Princes, the ambition and 


324 Sir Thomas Browne 

avarice of Prelates, and the fatal corruption of times, so de- 
cayed, impaired, and fallen from its native Beauty, that it 
required the careful and charitable hands of these times to 
restore it to its primitive Integrity. Now the accidental oc- 
casion whereupon, the slender means whereby, the low and 
abject condition of the Person by whom so good a work was 
set on foot, which in our Adversaries beget contempt and 
scorn, fills me with wonder, and is the very same Objection 
the insolent Pagans first cast at CHRIST and His Disciples. 

Yet have I not so shaken hands with those desperate Reso- 
lutions, (who had rather venture at large their decayed bot- 
tom, than bring her in to be new trimm'd in the Dock; who 
had rather promiscuously retain all, than abridge any, and 
obstinately be what they are, than what they have been), 
as to stand in Diameter and Swords point with them. We 
have reformed from them, not against them; for (omitting 
those Improperations and Terms of Scurrility betwixt us, 
which only difference our Affections, and not our Cause), 
there is between us one common Name and Appelation, one 
Faith and necessary body of Principles common to us both; 
and therefore I am not' scrupulous to converse and live with 
them, to enter their Churches in defect of ours, and either 
pray with them, or for them. I could never perceive any 
rational Consequence from those many Texts which prohibit 
the Children of Israel to pollute themselves with the Temples 
of the Heathens; we being all Christians, and not divided 
by such detested impieties as might prophane our Prayers, 
or the place wherein we make them; or that a resolved Con- 
science may not adore her Creator any where, especially in 
places devoted to His Service; where, if their Devotions offend 
Him, mine may please Him; if theirs prophane it, mine may 
hallow it. Holy-water and Crucifix (dangerous to the com- 
mon people), deceive not my judgment, nor abuse my devo- 
tion at all. I am, I confess, naturally inclined to that which 
misguided Zeal terms Superstition. My common conversation 
I do acknowledge austere, my behaviour full of rigour, some- 
times not without morosity; yet at my Devotion I love to 

Religio Medici 325 

use the civility of my knee, my hat, and hand, with all those 
outward and sensible motions which may express or promote 
my invisible Devotion. I should violate my own arm rather 
than a Church; nor willingly deface the name of Saint or 
Martyr. At the sight of a Cross or Crucifix I can dispense with 
my hat, but scarce with the thought or memory of my Saviour. 
I cannot laugh at, but rather pity, the fruitless journeys of 
Pilgrims, or contemn the miserable condition of Fryars; for, 
though misplaced in Circumstances, there is something in it 
of Devotion. I could never hear the Ave-Mary Bell without 
an elevation; or think it a sufficient warrant, because they 
erred in one circumstance, for me to err in all, that is, in 
silence and dumb contempt. Whilst, therefore, they directed 
their Devotions to Her, I offered mine to GOD, and rectified 
the Errors of their Prayers by rightly ordering mine own. At 
a solemn Procession I have wept abundantly, while my con- 
sorts, blind with opposition and prejudice, have fallen into 
an excess of scorn and laughter. There are, questionless, both 
in Greek, Roman, and African Churches, Solemnities and 
Ceremonies, whereof the wiser Zeals do make a Christian use, 
and stand condemned by us, not as evil in themselves, but as 
allurements and baits of superstition to those vulgar heads 
that look asquint on the face of Truth, and those unstable 
Judgments that cannot consist in the narrow point and centre 
of Virtue without a reel or stagger to the Circumference. 

As there were many Reformers, so likewise many Reforma- 
tions; every Country proceeding in a particular way and 
method, according as their national Interest, together with 
their Constitution and Clime, inclined them; some angrily, 
and with extremity; others calmly, and with mediocrity; not 
rending, but easily dividing the community, and leaving an 
honest possibility of a reconciliation; which though peaceable 
Spirits do desire, and may conceive that revolution of time 
and the mercies of GOD may effect, yet that judgment that 
shall consider the present antipathies between the two ex- 
treams, their contrarieties in condition, affection, and opinion, 

326 Sir Thomas Browne 

may with the same hopes expect an union in the Poles of 

But (to difference my self nearer, and draw into a lesser Cir- 
cle), there is no Church whose every part so squares unto my 
Conscience; whose Articles, Constitutions, and Customs seems 
so consonant unto reason, and as it were framed to my par- 
ticular Devotion, as this whereof I hold my Belief, the Church 
of England; to whose Faith I am a sworn Subject, and there- 
fore in a double Obligation subscribe unto her Articles, and 
endeavour to observe her Constitutions. Whatsoever is be- 
yond, as points indifferent, I observe according to the rules 
of my private reason, or the humour and fashion of my 
Devotion; neither believing this, because Luther affirmed it, 
or disproving that, because Calvin hath disavouched it. I 
condemn not all things in the Council of Trent, nor approve 
all in the Synod of Dort. In brief, where the Scripture is silent, 
the Church is my Text; where that speaks, 'tis but my Com- 
ment: where there is a joynt silence of both, I borrow not the 
rules of my Religion from Rome or Geneva, but the dictates 
of my own reason. It is an unjust scandal of our adversaries, 
and a gross errour in our selves, to compute the Nativity of 
our Religion from Henry the Eighth, who, though he rejected 
the Pope, refus'd not the faith of Rome, and effected no more 
than what his own Predecessors desired and assayed in Ages 
past, and was conceived the State of Venice would have at- 
tempted in our days. It is as uncharitable a point in us to 
fall upon those popular scurrilities and opprobrious scoffs of 
the Bishop of Rome, to whom, as a temporal Prince, we owe 
the duty of good language. I confess there is cause of passion 
between us: by his sentence I stand excommunicated; Heretick 
is the best language h*e affords me; yet can no ear witness I 
ever returned him the name of Antichrist, Man of Sin, or 
Whore of Babylon. It is the method of Charity to suffer with- 
out reaction: those usual Satyrs and invectives of the Pulpit 
may perchance produce a good effect on the vulgar, whose ears 
are opener to RJietorick than Logick; yet do they in no wise 
confirm the faith of wiser Believers, who know that a good 

Religio Medici 327 

cause needs not to be patron'd by passion, but can sustain it 
self upon a temperate dispute. 

I could never divide my self from any man upon the dif- 
ference of an opinion, or be angry with his judgment for not 
agreeing with me in that from which perhaps within a few 
days I should dissent my self. I have no Genius to disputes in 
Religion, and have often thought it wisdom to decline them, 
especially upon a disadvantage, or when the cause of Truth 
might suffer in the weakness of my patronage. Where we desire 
to be informed, 'tis good to contest with men above our selves; 
but to confirm and establish our opinions, 'tis best to argue 
with judgments below our own, that the frequent spoils and 
Victories over their reasons may settle in ourselves an esteem 
and confirmed Opinion of our own. Every man is not a proper 
Champion for Truth, nor fit to take up the Gauntlet in the 
cause of Verity: many, from the ignorance of these Maximes, 
and an inconsiderate Zeal unto Truth, have too rashly charged 
the troops of Error, and remain as Trophies unto the enemies 
of Truth. A man may be in as just possession of Truth as of 
a City, and yet be forced to surrender ; 'tis therefore far better 
to enjoy her with peace, than to hazzard her on a battle. If, 
therefore, there rise any doubts in my way, I do forget them, 
or at least defer them till my better settled judgement and 
more manly reason be able to resolve them; for I perceive 
every man's own reason in his best CEdipus, and will, upon a 
reasonable truce, find a way to loose those bonds wherewith 
the subtleties of error have enchained our more flexible and 
tender judgements. In Philosophy, where Truth seems double- 
fac'd, there is no man more Paradoxical than my self: but in 
Divinity I love to keep the Road; and, though not in an 
implicite, yet an humble faith, follow the great wheel of the 
Church, by which I move, not reserving any proper Poles 
or motion from the Epicycle of my own brain. By this means 
I leave no gap for Heresies, Schismes, or Errors, of which at 
present I hope I shall not injure Truth to say I have no taint 
or tincture. I must confess my greener studies have been 
polluted with two or three; not any begotten in the latter 

328 Sir Thomas Browne 

Centuries, but old and obsolete, such as could never have been 
revived, but by such extravagant and irregular heads as mine: 
for indeed Heresies perish not with their Authors, but, like 
the river Arethusa, though they lose their currents in one place, 
they rise up again in another. One General Council is not able 
to extirpate one single Heresie: it may be cancell'd for the 
present; but revolution of time, and the like aspects from 
Heaven, will restore it, when it will flourish till it be con- 
demned again. For as though there were a Metempsuchosis, 
and the soul of one man passed into another, Opinions do find, 
after certain Revolutions, men and minds like those that first 
begat them. To see our selves again, we need not look for 
Plato J s year: every man is not only himself; there hath been 
many Diogenes, and as many Timons, though but few of 
that name: men are liv'd over again, the world is how as it 
was in Ages past; there was none then, but there hath been 
some one since that parallels him, and is, as it were, his re- 
vived self. 

Now the first of mine was that of the Arabians, That the 
Souls of men perished with their Bodies, but should yet be 
raised again at the last day. Not that I did absolutely con- 
ceive a mortality of the Soul; but if that were, (which Faith, 
not Philosophy, hath yet throughly disproved), and that 
both entred the grave together, yet I held the same conceit 
thereof that we all do of the body, that it should rise again. 
Surely it is but the merits of our unworthy Natures, if we 
sleep in darkness until the last Alarum. A serious reflex upon 
my own unworthiness did make me backward from challeng- 
ing this prerogative of my Soul: so that I might enjoy my 
Saviour at the last, I could with patience be nothing almost 
unto Eternity. 

The second was that of Origen, That GOD would not persist 
in His vengeance for ever, but after a definite time of His 
wrath, He would release the damned Souls from torture. 
Which error I fell into upon a serious contemplation of the 
great Attribute of GOD, His Mercy; and did a little cherish 
it in my self, because I found therein no malice, and a ready 

Religio Medici 329 

weight to sway me from the other extream of despair, where- 
unto Melancholy and Contemplative Natures are too easily 

A third there is, which I did never positively maintain or 
practise, but have often wished it had been consonant to 
Truth, and not offensive to my Religion, and that is, the 
Prayer for the Dead; whereunto I was inclined from some 
charitable inducements, whereby I could scarce contain my 
Prayers for a friend at the ringing of a Bell, or behold his 
Corps without an Orison for his Soul. 'Twas a good way, 
methought, to be remembred by posterity, and far more noble 
than an History. 

These opinions I never maintained with pertinacy, or en- 
deavoured to enveagle any mans belief unto mine, nor so 
much as ever revealed or disputed them with my dearest 
friends; by which means I neither propagated them in others, 
nor confirmed them in my self; but suffering them to flame 
upon their own substance, without addition of new fuel, they 
went out insensibly of themselves. Therefore these Opinions, 
though condemned by lawful Councels, were not Heresies in 
me, but bare Errors, and single Lapses of my understanding, 
without a joynt depravity of my will. Those have not onely 
depraved understandings, but diseased affections, which can- 
not enjoy a singularity without an Heresie, or be the Author 
of an Opinion without they be of a Sect also. This was the 
villany of the first Schism of Lucifer, who was not content to 
err alone, but drew into his Faction many Legions of Spirits; 
and upon this experience he tempted only Eve, as well under- 
standing the Communicable nature of Sin, and that to deceive 
but one, was tacitely and upon consequence to delude them 

That Heresies should arise, we have the Prophesie of 
CHRIST; but that old ones should be abolished, we hold no 
prediction. That there must be Heresies, is true, not only in 
our Church, but also in any other: even in doctrines heretical, 
there will be super-heresies; and Arians not only divided from 
their Church, but also among themselves. For heads that are 

330 Sir Thomas Browne 

disposed unto Schism and complexionally prepense to innova- 
tion, are naturally indisposed for a community, nor will be 
ever confined unto the order or ceconomy of one body; and, 
therefore, when they separate from others, they knit but 
loosely among themselves; nor contented with a general 
breach or dichotomy with their Church do subdivide and 
mince themselves almost into Atoms. Tis true, that men of 
singular parts and humours have not been free from singular 
opinions and conceits in all Ages; retaining something, not 
only beside the opinion of his own Church or any other, but 
also any particular Author; which, notwithstanding, a sober 
Judgment may do without offence or heresie; for there is yet, 
after all the Decrees of Councils and the niceties of the Schools, 
many things untouch'd, unimagin'd, wherein the liberty of 
an honest reason may play and expatiate with security, and 
far without the circle of an Heresie. 

As for those wingy Mysteries in Divinity, and airy subtle- 
ties in Religion, which have unhing'd the brains of better 
heads, they never stretched the Pia Mater of mine. Me thinks 
there be not impossibilities enough in Religion for an active 
faith; the deepest Mysteries ours contains have not only been 
illustrated, but maintained, by Syllogism and the rule of 
Reason. I love to lose my self in a mystery, to pursue my 
Reason to an altitudo! 'Tis my solitary recreation to pose 
my apprehension with those involved ^Enigmas and riddles 
of the Trinity, with Incarnation, and Resurrection. I can 
answer all the Objections of Satan and my rebellious reason 
with that odd resolution I learned of Tertullian, Certum est, 
quia impossibile est. I desire to exercise my faith in the diffi- 
cultest point; for to credit ordinary and visible objects is not 
faith, but perswasion. Some believe the better for seeing 
CHRIST'S Sepulchre; and, when they have seen the Red Sea, 
doubt not of the Miracle. Now, contrarily, I bless my self 
and am thankful that I lived not in the days of Miracles, that 
I never saw CHRIST nor His Disciples. I would not have been 
one of those Israelites that pass'd the Red Sea, nor one of 
CHRIST'S patients on whom He wrought His wonders; then 

Religio Medici 33 1 

had my faith been thrust upon me, nor should I enjoy that 
greater blessing pronounced to all that believe and saw not. 
Tis an easie and necessary belief, to credit what our eye and 
sense hath examined. I believe He was dead, and buried, and 
rose again; and desire to see Him in His glory, rather than 
to contemplate Him in His Cenotaphe or Sepulchre. Nor is 
this much to believe; as we have reason, we owe this faith 
unto History: they only had the advantage of a bold and noble 
Faith, who lived before His coming, who upon obscure prophe- 
sies and mystical Types could raise a belief, and expect ap- 
parent impossibilities. 

'Tis true, there is an edge in all firm belief, and with an 
easie Metaphor we may say, the Sword of Faith; but in these 
obscurities I rather use it in the adjunct the Apostle gives it, 
a Buckler; under which I conceive a wary combatant may 
lye invulnerable. Since I was of understanding to know we 
knew nothing, my reason hath been more pliable to the will 
of Faith; I am now content to understand a mystery without 
a rigid definition, in an easie and Platonick description. That 
allegorical description of Hermes pleaseth me beyond all the 
Metaphysical definitions of Divines. Where I cannot satisfy 
my reason, I love to humour my fancy: I had as live you tell 
me that anima est angelus hominis, est Corpus DEI, as En- 
telechia;Lux est umbra DEI, as actus perspicui. Where 
there is an obscurity too deep for our Reason, 'tis good to sit 
down with a description, periphrasis, or adumbration; for by 
acquainting our Reason how unable it is to display the visible 
and obvious effects of Nature, it becomes more humble and 
submissive unto the subtleties of Faith; and thus I teach 
my haggard and unreclaimed Reason to stoop unto the lure 
of Faith. I believe there was already a tree whose fruit our 
unhappy Parents tasted, though, in the same Chapter when 
GOD forbids it, 'tis positively said, the plants of the field were 
not yet grown, for GOD had not caus'd it to rain upon the earth. 
I believe that the Serpent, (if we shall literally understand it) , 
from his proper form and figure, made his motion on his belly 
before the curse. I find the tryal of the Pucellage and virginity 

332 Sir Thomas Browne 

of Women, which GOD ordained the Jews, is very fallible. 
Experience and History informs me, that not onely many 
particular Women, but likewise whole Nations, have escaped 
the curse of Childbirth, which GOD seems to pronounce upon 
the whole Sex. Yet do I believe that all this is true, which 
indeed my Reason would perswade me to be false; and this 
I think is no vulgar part of Faith, to believe a thing not only 
above but contrary to Reason, and against the Arguments of 
our proper Senses. 

In my solitary and retired imagination 

(neque enim cum portkus aut me 
Lectulus accepit, desum mihi,) 

I remember I am not alone, and therefore forget not to con- 
template Him and His Attributes Who is ever with me, espe- 
cially those two mighty ones, His Wisdom and Eternity. With 
the one I recreate, with the other I confound, my under- 
standing; for who can speak of Eternity without a solcecism, 
or think thereof without an Extasie? Time we may compre- 
hend; 'tis but five days elder then our selves, and hath the 
same Horoscope with the World; but to retire so far back 
as to apprehend a beginning, to give such an infinite start 
forwards as to conceive an end, in an essence that we affirm 
hath neither the one nor the other, it puts my Reason to St. 
Paul's Sanctuary. My Philosophy dares not say the Angels 
can do it. GOD hath not made a Creature that can comprehend 
Him; 'tis a privilege of His own nature. I AM THAT I AM, was 
His own definition unto Moses; and 'twas a short one, to 
confound mortality, that durst question GOD, or ask Him 
what He was. Indeed, He onely is; all others have and shall 
be. But in Eternity there is no distinction of Tenses; and 
therefore that terrible term Predestination, which hath trou- 
bled so many weak heads to conceive, and the wisest to 
explain, is in respect to GOD no prescious determination of 
our Estates to come, but a definitive blast of His Will already 
fulfilled, and at the instant that He first decreed it; for to 
His Eternity, which is indivisible and all together, the last 

Religio Medki 333 

Trump is already sounded, the reprobates in the flame, and 
the blessed in Abraham's bosome. St. Peter speaks modestly, 
when he saith, a thousand years to GOD are but as one day; 
for, to speak like a Philosopher, those continued instances of 
time which flow into a thousand years, make not to Him one 
moment: what to us is to come, to His Eternity is present, 
His whole duration being but one permanent point, without 
Succession, Parts, Flux, or Division. 

There is no Attribute that adds more difficulty to the mys- 
tery of the Trinity, where, though in a relative way of Father 
and Son, we must deny a priority. I wonder how Aristotle 
could conceive the World eternal, or how he could make good 
two Eternities. His similitude of a Triangle comprehended 
in a square doth somewhat illustrate the Trinity of our Souls, 
and that the Triple Unity of GOD; for there is in us not three, 
but a Trinity of Souls; because there is in us, if not three 
distinct Souls, yet differing faculties, that can and do subsist 
apart in different Subjects, and yet in us are so united as to 
make but one Soul and substance. If one Soul were so perfect 
as to inform three distinct Bodies, that were a petty Trinity: 
conceive the distinct number of three, not divided nor sepa- 
rated by the intellect, but actually comprehended in its Unity, 
and that is a perfect Trinity. I have often admired the mysti- 
cal way of Pythagoras, and the secret Magick of numbers. 
Beware of Philosophy, is a precept not to be received in too 
large a sense; for in this Mass of Nature there is a set of 
things that carry in their Front (though not in Capital Let- 
ters, yet in Stenography and short Characters), something of 
Divinity, which to wiser Reasons serve as Luminaries in the 
Abyss of Knowledge, and to judicious beliefs as Scales and 
Roundles to mount the Pinacles and highest pieces of Divinity. 
The severe Schools shall never laugh me out of the Philosophy 
of Hermes, that this visible World is but a Picture of the 
invisible, wherein, as in a Pourtraict, things are not truely, but 
in equivocal shapes, and as they counterfeit some more real 
substance in that invisible fabrick. 

That other Attribute wherewith I recreate my devotion, 

334 Sir Thomas Browne 

is His Wisdom, in which I am happy; and for the contem- 
plation of this only, do not repent me that I was bred in the 
way of Study: the advantage I have of the vulgar, with the 
content and happiness I conceive therein, is an ample recom- 
pence for all my endeavours, in what part of knowledge soever. 
Wisdom is His most beauteous Attribute; no man can attain 
unto it, yet Solomon pleased GOD when he desired it. He is 
wise, because He knows all things; and He knoweth all things, 
because He made them all: but His greatest knowledge is in 
comprehending that He made not, that is, Himself. And this 
is also the greatest knowledge in man. For this do I honour 
my own profession, and embrace the Counsel even of the 
Devil himself: had he read such a Lecture in Paradise as he 
did at Delphos, we had better known our selves, nor had we 
stood in fear to know him. I know He is wise in all, wonderful 
in what we conceive, but far more in what we comprehend 
not; for we behold Him but asquint, upon reflex or shadow; 
our understanding is dimmer than Moses Eye; we are ig- 
norant of the back-parts or lower side of His Divinity; there- 
fore to prie into the maze of His Counsels is not only folly in 
man, but presumption even in Angels. Like us, they are His 
Servants, not His Senators; He holds no Counsel, but that 
mystical one of the Trinity, wherein, though there be three 
Persons, there is but one mind that decrees without contradic- 
tion. Nor needs He any: His actions are not begot with delib- 
eration, His Wisdom naturally knows what's best; His 
intellect stands ready fraught with the superlative and purest 
Ideas of goodness; consultation and election, which are two 
motions in us, make but one in Him, His actions springing 
from His power at the first touch of His will. These are Con- 
templations metaphysical: my humble speculations have an- 
other Method, and are content to trace and discover those 
expressions He hath left in His Creatures, and the obvious 
effects of Nature. There is no danger to profound these mys- 
teries, no sanctum sanctorum in Philosophy. The World was 
made to be inhabited by Beasts, but studied and contem- 
plated by Mao: 'tis the Debt of our Reason we owe unto 

Religio Medki 335 

GOD, and the homage we pay for not being Beasts. Without 
this, the World is still as though it had not been, or as it was 
before the sixth day, when as yet there was not a Creature 
that could conceive or say there was a World. The Wisdom 
of GOD receives small honour from those vulgar Heads that 
rudely stare about, and with a gross rusticity admire His 
works: those highly magnifie Him, whose judicious inquiry 
into His Acts, and deliberate research into His Creatures, 
return the duty of a devout and learned admiration. There- 

Search while thou wilt, and let thy Reason go, 

To ransome Truth, even to th' Abyss below; 

Rally the scattered Causes; and that line, 

Which Nature twists, be able to untwine. 

It is thy Makers will, for unto none 

But unto Reason can He e'er be known. 

The Devils do know Thee, but those damned Meteors 

Build not Thy Glory, but confound Thy Creatures. 

Teach my indeavours so Thy works to read, 

That learning them in Thee, I may proceed. 

Give Thou my reason that instructive flight, 

Whose weary wings may on Thy hands still light. 

Teach me to soar aloft, yet ever so 

When neer the Sun, to stoop again below. 

Thus shall my humble Feathers safely hover, 

And, though near Earth, more than the Heavens discover. 

And then at last, when homeward I shall drive, 

Rich with the Spoils of Nature, to my Hive, 

There will I sit like that industrious Flie, 

Buzzing Thy praises, which shall never die, 

Till Death abrupts them, and succeeding Glory 

Bid me go on in a more lasting story. 

And this is almost all wherein an humble Creature may 
endeavour to requite and some way to retribute unto his 
Creator: for if not he that saith, "Lord, Lord," but he that 
doth the will of his Father, shall be saved; certainly our wills 

336 Sir Thomas Browne 

must be our performances, and our intents make out our 
Actions; otherwise our pious labours shall find anxiety in our 
Graves, and our best endeavours not hope, but fear, a resur- 

There is but one first cause, and four second causes of all 
things. Some are without efficient, as GOD; others without 
matter, as Angels; some without form, as the first matter: 
but every Essence, created or uncreated, hath its final cause, 
and some positive end both of its Essence and Operation. This 
is the cause I grope after in the works of Nature; on this 
hangs the Providence of GOD. To raise so beauteous a struc- 
ture as the World and the Creatures thereof, was but His 
Art; but their sundry and divided operations, with their 
predestinated ends, are from the Treasure of His Wisdom. In 
the causes, nature, and affections of the Eclipses of the Sun 
and Moon, there is most excellent speculation; but to pro- 
found farther, and to contemplate a reason why His Provi- 
dence hath so disposed and ordered their motions in that vast 
circle as to conjoyn and obscure each other, is a sweeter piece 
of Reason, and a diviner point of Philosophy. Therefore 
sometimes, and in some things, there appears to me as much 
Divinity in Galen his books De Usu Partium, as in Suarez 
Metaphysicks. Had Aristotle been as curious in the enquiry 
of this cause as he was of the other, he had not left behind 
him an imperfect piece of Philosophy, but an absolute tract 
of Divinity. 

Natura nihil agit jrustra, is the only indisputed Axiome 
in Philosophy. There are no Grotesques in Nature; not any- 
thing framed to fill up empty Cantons, and unnecessary 
spaces. In the most imperfect Creatures, and such as were 
not preserved in the Ark, but, having their Seeds and Prin- 
ciples in the womb of Nature, are everywhere, where the 
power of the Sun is, in these is the Wisdom of His hand dis- 
covered. Out of this rank Solomon chose the object of his 
admiration. Indeed, what Reason may not go to School to 
the wisdom of Bees, Ants, and Spiders? what wise hand 
teacheth them to do what Reason cannot teach us? Ruder 

Religio Medici 337 

heads stand amazed at those prodigious pieces of Nature, 
Whales, Elephants, Dromidaries and Camels; these, I con- 
fess, are the Colossus and majestick pieces of her hand: but 
in these narrow Engines there is more curious Mathematicks; 
and the civility of these little Citizens more neatly sets forth 
the Wisdom of their Maker. Who admires not Regio-Mon- 
tanus his Fly beyond his Eagle, or wonders not more at the 
operation of two Souls in those little Bodies, than but one 
in the Trunk of a Cedar? I could never content my contempla- 
tion with those general pieces of wonder, the Flux and Reflux 
of the Sea, the increase of Nile, the conversion of the Needle 
to the North; and have studied to match and parallel those 
in the more obvious and neglected pieces of Nature, which 
without further travel I can do in the Cosmography of myself. 
We carry with us the wonders we seek without us: there is 
all Africa and her prodigies in us; we are that bold and ad- 
venturous piece of Nature, which he that studies wisely learns 
in a compendium what others labour at in a divided piece and 
endless volume. 

Thus there are two Books from whence I collect my Di- 
vinity; besides that written one of GOD, another of His 
servant Nature, that universal and publick Manuscript, that 
lies expans'd unto the Eyes of all: those that never saw him 
in the one, have discovered Him in the other. This was the 
Scripture and Theology of the Heathens: the natural motion 
of the Sun made them more admire Him than its supernatural 
station did the Children of Israel; the ordinary effects of 
Nature wrought more admiration in them than in the other 
all His Miracles. Surely the Heathens knew better how to 
joyn and read these mystical Letters than we Christians, who 
cast a more careless Eye on these common Hieroglyphicks, 
and disdain to suck Divinity from the flowers of Nature. Nor 
do I so forget GOD as to adore the name of Nature; which 
I define not, with the Schools, to be the principle of motion 
and rest, but that streight and regular line, that settled and 
constant course the Wisdom of GOD hath ordained the actions 
of His creatures, according to their several kinds. To make 

338 Sir Thomas Browne 

a revolution every day is the Nature of the Sun, because of 
that necessary course which GOD hath ordained it, from which 
it cannot swerve but by a faculty from that voice which first 
did give it motion. Now this course of Nature GOD seldome 
alters or perverts, but, like an excellent Artist, hath so con- 
trived His work, that with the self same instrument, without 
a new creation, He may effect His obscurest designs. Thus 
He sweetneth the Water with a Wood, preserveth the Crea- 
tures in the Ark, which the blast of His mouth might have as 
easily created; for GOD is like a skilful Geometrician, who, 
when more easily and with one stroak of his Compass he 
might describe or divide a right line, had yet rather do this 
in a circle or longer way, according to the constituted and 
fore-laid principles of his Art. Yet this rule of His He doth 
sometimes pervert, to acquaint the World with His Preroga- 
tive, lest the arrogancy of our reason should question His 
power, and conclude He could not. And thus I call the effects 
of Nature the works of GOD, Whose hand and instrument she 
only is; and therefore to ascribe His actions unto her, is to 
devolve the honour of the principal agent upon the instru- 
ment; which if with reason we may do, then let our hammers 
rise up and boast they have built our houses, and our pens 
receive the honour of our writings. I hold there is a general 
beauty in the works of GOD, and therefore no deformity in 
any kind or species of creature whatsoever. I cannot tell by 
what Logick we call a Toad, a Bear, or an Elephant ugly; 
they being created in those outward shapes and figures which 
best express the actions of their inward forms, and having past 
that general Visitation of GOD, Who saw that all that He had 
made was good, that is, conformable to His Will, which abhors 
deformity, and is the rule of order and beauty. There is no 
deformity but in Monstrosity; wherein, notwithstanding, 
there is a kind of Beauty; Nature so ingeniously contriving 
the irregular parts, as they become sometimes more re- 
markable than the principal Fabrick. To speak yet more 
narrowly, there was never any thing ugly or mis-shapen, but 
the Chaos; wherein, notwithstanding, (to speak strictly), 

Religio Medici 339 

there was no deformity, because no form; nor was it yet im- 
pregnant by the voice of GOD. Now Nature is not at variance 
with Art, nor Art with Nature, they being both servants of 
His Providence. Art is the perfection of Nature. Were the 
World now as it was the sixth day, there were yet a Chaos. 
Nature hath made one World, and Art another. In brief, all 
things are artificial ; for Nature is the Art of GOD. 

This is the ordinary and open way of His Providence, which 
Art and Industry have in a good part discovered ; whose effects 
we may foretel without an Oracle: to foreshew these, is not 
Prophesie, but Prognostication. There is another way, full 
of Meanders and Labyrinths, whereof the Devil and Spirits 
have no exact Ephemerides; and that is a more particular 
and obscure method of His Providence, directing the opera- 
tions of individuals and single Essences: this we call Fortune, 
that serpentine and crooked line, whereby He draws those 
actions His Wisdom intends, in a more unknown and secret 
way. This cryptick and involved method of His Providence 
have I ever admired ; nor can I relate the History of my life, 
the occurrences of my days, the escapes of dangers, and hits 
of chance, with a Bezo las Manos to Fortune, or a bare Gram- 
ercy to my good Stars. Abraham might have thought the Ram 
in the thicket came thither by accident; humane reason would 
have said that meer chance conveyed Moses in the Ark to 
the sight of Pharaoh's Daughter: what a Labyrinth is there 
in the story of Joseph, able to convert a Stoick! Surely there 
are in every man's Life certain rubs, doublings, and wrenches, 
which pass a while under the effects of chance, but at the 
last, well examined, prove the meer hand of GOD. Twas not 
dumb chance, that, to discover the Fougade or Powder-plot, 
contrived a miscarriage in the Letter. I like the Victory of 
'88 the better for that one occurrence, which our enemies im- 
puted to our dishonour and the partiality of Fortune, to wit, 
the tempests and contrariety of Winds. King Philip did not 
detract from the Nation, when he said, he sent his Armada 
to fight with men, and not to combate with the Winds. Where 
there is a manifest disproportion between the powers and 

340 Sir Thomas Browne 

forces of two several agents, upon a Maxime of reason we 
may promise the victory to the Superior; but when unexpected 
accidents slip in, and unthought of occurrences intervene, 
these must proceed from a power that owes no obedience to 
those Axioms; where, as in the writing upon the wall, we 
may behold the hand, but see not the spring that moves it. 
The success of that petty Province of Holland (of which the 
Grand Seignour proudly said, if they should trouble him as 
they did the Spaniard , he would send his men with shovels 
and ptck-axes, and throw it into the Sea), I cannot altogether 
ascribe to the ingenuity and industry of the people, but the 
mercy of GOD, that hath disposed diem to such a thriving 
Genius; and to the will of His Providence, that disposeth her 
favour to each Country in their pre-ordinate season. All can- 
not be happy at once; for, because the glory of one State de- 
pends upon the ruine of another, there is a revolution and 
vicissitude of their greatness, and must obey the swing of 
that wheel, not moved by Intelligences, but by the hand of 
GOD, whereby all Estates arise to their Zenith and Vertical 
points according to their predestinated periods. For the lives, 
not only of men, but of Commonwealths, and the whole 
World, run not upon an Helix that still enlargeth, but on a 
Circle, where, arriving to their Meridian, they decline in ob- 
scurity, and fall under the Horizon again. 

These must not therefore be named the effects of Fortune, 
but in a relative way, and as we term the works of Nature. 
It was the ignorance of man's reason that begat this very 
name, and by a careless term miscalled the Providence of 
GOD; for there is no liberty for causes to operate in a loose 
and straggling way; nor any effect whatsoever, but hath its 
warrant from some universal or superiour Cause. 'Tis not a 
ridiculous devotion to say a prayer before a game at Tables; 
for even in sortttegies and matters of greatest uncertainty, 
there is a setled and pre-ordered course of effects. It is we 
that are blind, not Fortune: because our Eye is too dim to 
discover the mystery of her effects, we foolishly paint her 
blind, and hoodwink the Providence of the Almighty. I can- 

Religio Medici 341 

not justifie that contemptible Proverb, That fools only are 
Fortunate, or that insolent Paradox, That a wise man is out 
of the reach of Fortune; much less those approbrious epithets 
of Poets, Whore, Bawd, and Strumpet. Tis, I confess, the 
common fate of men of singular gifts of mind to be destitute 
of those of Fortune, which doth not any way deject the Spirit 
of wiser judgements, who thoroughly understand the justice 
of this proceeding; and being inriched with higher donatives, 
cast a more careless eye on these vulgar parts of felicity. It 
is a most unjust ambition to desire to engross the mercies of 
the Almighty, not to be content with the goods of mind, with- 
out a possession of those of body or Fortune; and it is an 
error worse than heresie, to adore these complemental and 
circumstantial pieces of felicity, and undervalue those per- 
fections and essential points of happiness wherein we resem- 
ble our Maker. To wiser desires it is satisfaction enough to 
deserve, though not to enjoy, the favours of Fortune: let 
Providence provide for Fools. 'Tis not partiality, but equity 
in GOD, Who deals with us but as our natural Parents: those 
that are able of Body and Mind He leaves to their deserts; 
to those of weaker merits He imparts a larger portion, and 
pieces out the defect of one by the excess of the other. Thus 
have we no just quarrel with Nature for leaving us naked; 
or to envy the Horns, Hoofs, Skins, and Furs of other Crea- 
tures, being provided with Reason, that can supply them all. 
We need not labour with so many Arguments to confute 
Judicial Astrology; for, if there be a truth therein, it doth 
not injure Divinity. If to be born under Mercury disposeth 
us to be witty, under Jupiter to be wealthy; I do not owe a 
Knee unto these, but unto that merciful Hand that hath 
ordered my indifferent and uncertain nativity unto such 
benevolous Aspects. Those that hold that all things are gov- 
erned by Fortune, had not erred, had they not persisted there. 
The Romans, that erected a Temple to Fortune, acknowledged 
therein, though in a blinder way, somewhat of Divinity; for, 
in a wise supputation, all things begin and end in the Al- 
mighty. There is a nearer way to Heaven than Homer's Chain ; 

34* Sir Thomas Browne 

an easie Logic may conjoyn Heaven and Earth in one Argu- 
ment, and with less than a Sorites resolve all things into GOD. 
For though we christen effects by their most sensible and 
nearest Causes, yet is GOD the true and infallible Cause of all; 
whose concourse, though it be general, yet doth it subdivide 
itself into the particular Actions of every thing, and is that 
Spirit, by which each singular Essence not only subsists, but 
performs its operation. 

The bad construction and perverse comment on these pair 
of second Causes, or visible hands of GOD, have perverted the 
Devotion of many unto Atheism; who, forgetting the honest 
Advisoes of Faith, have listened unto the conspiracy of Pas- 
sion and Reason. I have therefore always endeavoured to 
compose those Feuds and angry Dissentions between Affec- 
tion, Faith, and Reason; for there is in our Soul a kind of 
Triumvirate, or triple Government of three Competitors, 
which distract the Peace of this our Commonwealth, not less 
than did that other the State of Rome. 

As Reason is a Rebel unto Faith, so Passion unto Reason: 
as the propositions of Faith seem absurd unto Reason, so the 
Theorems of Reason unto Passion, and both unto Reason. 
Yet a moderate and peaceable discretion may so state and 
order the matter, that they may be all Kings, and yet make 
but one Monarchy, every one exercising his Soveraignty and 
Prerogative in a due time and place, according to the restraint 
and limit of circumstance. There is, as in Philosophy, so in 
Divinity, sturdy doubts and boisterous Objections, where- 
with the unhappiness of our knowledge too nearly acquainteth 
us. More of these no man hath known than myself, which I 
confess I conquered, not in a martial posture, but on my Knees. 
For our endeavours are not only to combat with doubts, but 
always to dispute with the Devil. The villany of that Spirit 
takes a hint of Infidelity from our Studies, and, by demon- 
strating a naturality in one way, makes us mistrust a miracle 
in another. Thus, having perused the Archidoxis and read the 
secret Sympathies of things, he would disswade my belief 
from the miracle of the Brazen Serpent, make me conceit 

Religio Medki 343 

that Image worked by Sympathy, and was but an Egyptian 
trick to cure their Diseases without a miracle. Again, having 
seen some experiments of Bitumen, and having read far more 
of Naphtha, he whispered to my curiosity the fire of the Altai 
might be natural; and bid me mistrust a miracle in Elias f 
when he entrenched the Altar round with Water; for that 
inflamable substance yields not easily unto Water, but flames 
in the Arms of its Antagonist. And thus would he inveagle my 
belief to think the combustion of Sodom might be natural, 
and that there was an Asphaltick and Bituminous nature in 
that Lake before the Fire of Gomorrah. I know that Manna 
is now plentifully gathered in Calabria; and Josephus tells 
me, in his days it was as plentiful in Arabia; the Devil there- 
fore made the quaere, Where was then the miracle in the days 
of Moses? the Israelites saw but that in his time, the Native* 
of those Countries behold in ours. Thus the Devil played at 
Chess with me, and yielding a Pawn, thought to gain a Queen 
of me, taking advantage of my honest endeavours; and whilst 
I laboured to raise the structure of my Reason, he strived to 
undermine the edifice of my Faith. 

Neither had these or any other ever such advantage of me, 
as to incline me to any point of Infidelity or desperate posi- 
tions of Atheism; for I have been these many years of opinion 
there was never any. Those that held Religion was the dif- 
ference of Man from Beasts, have spoken probably, and pro- 
ceed upon a principle as inductive as the other. That doctrine 
of Epicurus, that denied the Providence of GOD, was no Athe- 
ism, but a magnificent and high strained conceit of His 
Majesty, which he deemed too sublime to mind the trivial 
Actions of those inferiour Creatures. That fatal Necessity of 
the Stoicks is nothing but the immutable Law of His Will. 
Those that heretofore denied the Divinity of the HOLY GHOST, 
have been condemned but as Hereticks; and those that now 
deny our Saviour, (though more than Hereticks), are not so 
much as Atheists; for, though they deny two persons in the 
Trinity, they hold, as we do, there is but one GOD. 

That Villain and Secretary of Hell, that composed that 

344 Sir Thomas Browne 

miscreant piece Of the Three Impostors, though divided from 
all Religions, and was neither Jew, Turk, nor Christian, was 
not a positive Atheist. I confess every Country hath its 
Machiavel, every Age its Lucian, whereof common Heads 
must not hear, nor more advanced Judgments too rashly ven- 
ture on: it is the Rhetorick of Satan, and may pervert a loose 
or prejudicate belief. 

I confess I have perused them all, and can discover nothing 
that may startle a discreet belief ; yet are there heads carried 
off with the Wind and breath of such motives. I remember a 
Doctor in Physick, of Italy, who could not perfectly believe 
the immortality of the Soul, because Galen seemed to make 
a doubt thereof. With another I was familiarly acquainted in 
France, a Divine, and a man of singular parts, that on the 
same point was so plunged and gravelled with three lines of 
Seneca, that all our Antidotes, drawn from both Scripture and 
Philosophy, could not expel the poyson of his errour. There 
are a set of Heads, that can credit the relations of Mariners, 
yet question the Testimonies of St. Paul; and peremptorily 
maintain the traditions of yElian or Pliny, yet in Histories of 
Scripture raise Queries and Objections, believing no more than 
they can parallel in humane Authors. I confess there are in 
Scripture Stories that do exceed the Fables of Poets, and to 
a captious Reader sound like Garagantua or Bevis. Search all 
the Legends of times past, and the fabulous conceits of these 
present, and 'twill be hard to find one that deserves to carry 
the Buckler unto Sampson; yet is all this of an easie pos- 
sibility, if we conceive a Divine concourse, or an influence 
but from the little Finger of the Almighty. It is impossible that 
either in the discourse of man, or in the infallible Voice of 
GOD, to the weakness of our apprehensions, there should not 
appear irregularities, contradictions, and antinomies: my self 
could shew a Catalogue of doubts, never yet imagined nor 
questioned, as I know, which are not resolved at the first 
bearing ; not fantastick Queries or Objections of Air; for I 
lannot hear of Atoms in Divinity. I can read the History of 
the Pigeon that was sent out of the Ark, and returned no more, 

Religio Medici 345 

yet not question how she found out her Mate that was left 
behind: that Lazarus was raised from the dead, yet not de- 
mand where in the interim his Soul awaited ; or raise a Law- 
case, whether his Heir might lawfully detain his inheritance 
bequeathed unto him by his death, and he, though restored 
to life, have no Plea or Title unto his former possessions. 
Whether Eve was framed out of the left side of Adam, I dis- 
pute not; because I stand not yet assured which is the right 
side of a man, or whether there be any such distinction in 
Nature: that she was edified out of the Rib of Adam I be- 
lieve, yet raise no question who shall arise with that Rib at 
the Resurrection. Whether Adam was an Hermaphrodite, as 
the Rabbins contend upon the Letter of the Text, because it 
is contrary to reason, there should be an Hermaphrodite be- 
fore there was a Woman, or a composition of two Natures 
before there was a second composed. Likewise, whether the 
World was created in Autumn, Summer, or the Spring, because 
it was created in them all; for whatsoever Sign the Sun pos- 
sesseth, those four Seasons are actually existent. It is the 
nature of this Luminary to distinguish the several Seasons of 
the year, all which it makes at one time in the whole Earth, 
and successive in any part thereof. There are a bundle of 
curiosities, not only in Philosophy, but in Divinity, proposed 
and discussed by men of most supposed abilities, which indeed 
are not worthy our vacant hours, much less our serious 
Studies: Pieces only fit to be placed in Pantagruel's Library, 
or bound up with Tartaretus De modo Cacandi. 

These are niceties that become not those that peruse so 
serious a Mystery. There are others more generally questioned 
and called to the Bar, yet methinks of an easie and possible 

7 Tis ridiculous to put off or drown the general Flood of 
Noah in that particular inundation of Deucalion. That there 
was a Deluge once, seems not to me so great a Miracle, as 
that there is not one always. How all the kinds of Creatures, 
not only in their own bulks, but with a competency of food 
and sustenance, might be preserved in one Ark, and within 

346 Sir Thomas Browne 

the extent of three hundred Cubits, to a reason that rightly 
examines it, will appear very feasible. There is another secret, 
not contained in the Scripture, which is more hard to compre- 
hend, and put the honest Father to the refuge of a Miracle; 
and that is, not only how the distinct pieces of the World, and 
divided Islands, should be first planted by men, but inhabited 
by Tigers, Panthers, and Bears. How America abounded with 
Beasts of prey and noxious Animals, yet contained not in it 
that necessary Creature, a Horse, is very strange. By what 
passage those, not only Birds, but dangerous and unwelcome 
Beasts, came over; how there be Creatures there, which are 
not found in this Triple Continent; (all which must needs 
be strange unto us, that hold but one Ark, and that the Crea- 
tures began their progress from the Mountains of Ararat): 
they who, to salve this, would make the Deluge particular, 
proceed upon a principle that I can no way grant; not only 
upon the negative of Holy Scriptures, but of mine own Rea- 
son, whereby I can make it probable, that the world was as 
well peopled in the time of Noah as in ours; and fifteen hun- 
dred years to people the World, as full a time for them, as 
four thousand years since have been to us. 

There are other assertions and common Tenents drawn 
from Scripture, and generally believed as Scripture, whereunto, 
notwithstanding, I would never betray the liberty of my Rea- 
son. 'Tis a Postulate to me, that Methusalem was the longest 
liv'd of all the Children of Adam; and no man will be able 
to prove it, when, from the process of the Text, I can manifest 
it may be otherwise. That Judas perished by hanging himself, 
there is no certainty in Scripture: though in one place it seems 
to affirm it, and by a doubtful word hath given occasion to 
translate it; yet in another place, in a more punctual descrip- 
tion, it makes it improbable, and seems to overthrow it. That 
our Fathers, after the Flood, erected the Tower of Babel to 
preserve themselves against a second Deluge, is generally 
opinioned and believed ; yet is there another intention of theirs 
expressed in Scripture: besides, it is improbable from the cir- 
cumstance of the place, that is, a plain in the Land of Shinar. 

Religio Medici 347 

These are no points of Faith, and therefore may admit a free 

There are yet others, and those familiarly concluded from 
the text, wherein (under favour), I see no consequence. The 
Church of Rome confidently proves the opinion of Tutelary 
Angels from that Answer, when Peter knockt at the Door, 
9 Tis not he, but his Angel; that is, (might some say), his 
Messenger, or some body from him; for so the Original signi- 
fies, and is as likely to be the doubtful Families meaning. This 
exposition I once suggested to a young Divine, that answered 
upon this point; to which I remember the Franciscan Op- 
ponent replyed no more, but That it was a new, and no au- 
thentick interpretation. 

These are but the conclusions and fallible discourses of man 
upon the Word of GOD, for such I do believe the Holy Scrip- 
tures: yet, were it of man, I could not chuse but say, it was 
the singularest and superlative piece that hath been extant 
since the Creation. Were I a Pagan, I should not refrain th 
Lecture of it; and cannot but commend the judgment of 
Ptolomy, -that thought not his Library compleat without it. 
The Alcoran of the Turks (I speak without prejudice), is an 
ill composed Piece, containing in it vain and ridiculous Errors 
in Philosophy, impossibilities, fictions, and vanities beyond 
laughter, maintained by evident and open Sophisms, the Policy 
of Ignorance, deposition of Universities, and banishment of 
Learning, that hath gotten Foot by Arms and violence: this 
without a blow hath disseminated it self through the whole 
Earth. It is not unremarkable what Philo first observed, that 
the Law of Moses continued two thousand years without the 
least alteration; whereas, we see the Laws of other Common- 
weals do alter with occasions; and even those that pretended 
their original from some Divinity, to have vanished without 
trace or memory. I believe, besides Zoroaster, there were 
divers that writ before Moses, who, notwithstanding, have 
suffered the common fate of time. Mens Works have an age 
like themselves; and though they out-live their Authors, yet 
have they a stint and period to their duration: this only i 

Sir Thomas Browne 

A work too hard for the teeth of time, and cannot perish but 
in the general Flames, when all things shall confess their 

I have heard some with deep sighs lament the lost lines of 
Cicero; others with as many groans deplore the combustion 
of the Library of Alexandria: for my own part, I think there 
be too many in the World, and could with patience behold 
the urn and ashes of the Vatican, could I, with a few others, 
recover the perished leaves of Solomon. I would not omit a 
Copy of Enoch^ Pillars, had they many nearer Authors than 
Josephus, or did not relish somewhat of the Fable. Some men 
have written more than others have spoken; Pineda quotes 
fciore Authors in one work, than are necessary in a whole 
World. Of those three great inventions in Germany, there are 
two which are not without their incommodities, and 'tis dis- 
putable whether they exceed not their use and commodities. 
Tis not a melancholy Utinam of my own, but the desires of 
better heads, that there were a general Synod; not to unite 
the incompatible difference of Religion, but for the benefit of 
learning, to reduce it as it lay at first, in a few and solid Au- 
thors; and to condemn to the fire those swarms and millions 
of Rhapsodies, begotten only to distract and abuse the weaker 
judgements of Scholars, and to maintain the trade and mys- 
tery of Typographers. 

I cannot but wonder with what exception the Samaritans 
could confine their belief to the Pentateuch, or five Books of 
Moses. I am ashamed at the Rabbinical Interpretation of the 
Jews upon the Old Testament, as much as their defection from 
the New: and truly it is beyond wonder, how that contemptible 
and degenerate issue of Jacob, once so devoted to Ethnick 
Superstition, and so easily seduced to the Idolatry of their 
Neighbours, should now in such an obstinate and peremptory 
belief adhere unto their own Doctrine, expect impossibilities, 
and, in the face and eye of the Church, persist without the 
least hope of Conversion. This is a vice in them, that were a 
rertue in us; for obstinacy in a bad Cause is but constancy 
ia a food And herein I must accuse those of my ova Religion, 

Religio Medici 349 

for there is not any of such a fugitive Faith, such an unstable 
belief, as a Christian; none that do so oft transform them- 
selves, not unto several shapes of Christianity and of the same 
Species, but unto more unnatural and contrary Forms of Jew 
and Mahometan; that, from the name of Saviour, can con- 
descend to the bare term of Prophet; and, from an old belief 
that He is come, fall to a new expectation of His coming. It 
is the promise of CHRIST to make us all one Flock; but how 
and when this Union shall be, is as obscure to me as the last 
day. Of those four Members of Religion we hold a slender 
proportion. There are, I confess, some new additions, yet small 
to those which accrew to our Adversaries, and those only 
drawn from the revolt of Pagans, men but of negative Im- 
pieties, and such as deny CHRIST, but because they never 
heard of Him. But the Religion of the Jew is expressly against 
the Christian, and the Mahometan against both. For the Turk, 
in the bulk he now stands, he is beyond all hope of conversion; 
if he fall asunder, there may be conceived hopes, but not with- 
out strong improbabilities. The Jew is obstinate in all fortune; 
the persecution of fifteen hundred years hath but confirmed 
them in their Errour: they have already endured whatsoever 
may be inflicted, and have suffered in a bad cause, even to the 
condemnation of their enemies. Persecution is a bad and in- 
direct way to plant Religion: it hath been the unhappy method 
of angry Devotions, not only to confirm honest Religion, but 
wicked Heresies, and extravagant Opinions. It was the first 
stone and Basis of our Faith; none can more justly boast of 
Persecutions, and glory in the number and valour of Martyrs. 
For, to speak properly, those are true and almost only exam- 
ples of fortitude: those that are fetch'd from the field, or 
drawn from the actions of the Camp, are not oft-times so 
truely precedents of valour as audacity, and at the best attain 
but to some bastard piece of fortitude. If we shall strictly 
examine the circumstances and requisites which Aristotle re* 
quires to true and perfect valour, we shall find the name only 
in his Master, Alexander, and as little in that Roman Worthy, 
Julius Caesar; and if any in that easie and active way have 

3SO Sir Thomas Browne 

done so nobly as to deserve that name, yet in the passive and 
more terrible piece these have surpassed, and in a more he- 
roical way may claim the honour of that Title. Tis not in the 
power of every honest Faith to proceed thus far, or pass to 
Heaven through the flames. Every one hath it not in that full 
measure, nor in so audacious and resolute a temper, as to 
endure those terrible tests and trials; who, notwithstanding, 
in a peaceable way, do truely adore their Saviour, and have 
(no doubt), a Faith acceptable in the eyes of GOD. 

Now, as all that dye in the War are not termed Souldiers; 
so neither can I properly term all those that suffer in matters 
of Religion, Martyrs. The Council of Constance condemns 
John Huss for an Heretick; the Stories of his own Party stile 
him a Martyr: he must needs offend the Divinity of both, 
that says he was neither the one nor the other. There are many 
(questionless), canonized on earth, that shall never be Saints 
in Heaven; and have their names in Histories and Martyr- 
ologies, who in the eyes of GOD are not so perfect Martyrs as 
was that wise Heathen, Socrates, that suffered on a funda- 
mental point of Religion, the Unity of GOD. I have often pitied 
the miserable Bishop that suffered in the cause of Antipodes; 
yet cannot chuse but accuse him of as much madness, for ex- 
posing his living on such a trifle, as those of ignorance and 
folly, that condemned him. I think my conscience will not give 
tne the lye, if I say there are not many extant that in a noble 
way fear the face of death less than myself; yet, from the 
moral duty I owe to the Commandment of GOD, and the 
natural respects that I tender unto the conservation of my 
essence and being, I would not perish upon a Ceremony, Poli- 
tick points, or indifferency : nor is my belief of that untractible 
temper, as not to bow at their obstacles, or connive at mat- 
ters wherein there are not manifest impieties. The leaven, 
therefore, and ferment of all, not only civil but Religious 
actions, is Wisdom; without which, to commit ourselves to 
the flames is Homicide, and (I fear) , but to pass through one 
fire into another. 

That Miracles are ceased, I can neither prove, nor abso- 

Religio Medici 351 

lutely deny, much less define the time and period of their 
cessation. That they survived CHRIST, is manifest upon the 
Record of Scripture; that they outlived the Apostles also, 
and were revived at the Conversion of Nations many years 
after, we cannot deny, if we shall not question those Writers 
whose testimonies we do not controvert in points that make 
for our own opinions. Therefore that may have some truth 
in it that is reported by the Jesuites of their Miracles in the 
Indies; I could wish it were true, or had any other testimony 
than their own Pens. They may easily believe those Miracles 
abroad, who daily conceive a greater at home, the transmuta- 
tion of those visible elements into the Body and Blood of our 
Saviour. For the conversion of Water into Wine, which He 
wrought in Cana, or, what the Devil would have had Him 
done in the Wilderness, of Stones into Bread, compared to 
this, will scarce deserve the name of a Miracle: though indeed, 
to speak properly, there is not one Miracle greater than an- 
other, they being the extraordinary effects of the Hand of 
GOD, to which all things are of an equal facility; and to create 
the World, as easie as one single Creature. For this is also a 
Miracle, not onely to produce effects against or above Nature, 
but before Nature; and to create Nature, as great a Miracle 
as to contradict or transcend her. We do too narrowly define 
the Power of GOD, restraining it to our capacities. I hold that 
GOD can do all things; how He should work contradictions, 
I do not understand, yet dare not therefore deny. I cannot see 
why the Angel of GOD should question Esdras to recal the 
time past, if it were beyond His own power; or that GOD 
should pose mortality in that which He was not able to per- 
form Himself. I will not say GOD cannot, but He will not, 
perform many things, which we plainly affirm He cannot. 
This, I am sure, is the mannerliest proposition, wherein, not- 
withstanding, I hold no Paradox; for, strictly, His power is 
the same with His will, and they both, with all the rest, do 
make but one GOD. 

Therefore that Miracles have been, I do believe; that they 
may yet be wrought by the living, I do not deny; but have 

.35* Sir Thomas Browne 

DO confidence in those which are fathered on the dead. And 
this hath ever made me suspect the efficacy of reliques, to 
examine the bones, question the habits and appurtenances of 
Saints, and even of CHRIST Himself. I cannot conceive why 
the Cross that Helena found, and whereon CHRIST Himself 
dyed, should have power to restore others unto life. I excuse 
not Constantine from a fall off his Horse, or a mischief from 
his enemies, upon the wearing those nails on his bridle, which 
our Saviour bore upon the Cross in His Hands. I compute 
among your Fix jraudes, nor many degrees before consecrated 
Swords and Roses, that which Baldwyn, King of Jerusalem, 
returned the Genovese for their cost and pains in his War, to 
Wit, the ashes of John the Baptist. Those that hold the sanctity 
of their Souls doth leave behind a tincture and sacred faculty 
on their bodies, speak naturally of Miracles, and do not salve 
the doubt. Now one reason I tender so little Devotion unto 
Reliques, is, I think, the slender and doubtful respect I have 
always held unto Antiquities. For that indeed which I admire, 
is far before Antiquity, that is, Eternity; and that is, GOD 
Himself; Who, though He be styled the Ancient of Days, 
cannot receive the adjunct of Antiquity; Who was before the 
World, and shall be after it, yet is not older than it; for in 
His years there is no Climacter; His duration is Eternity, and 
far more venerable than Antiquity, 

But above all things I wonder how the curiosity of wiser 
heads could pass that great and indisputable Miracle, the 
cessation of Oracles; and in what swoun their Reasons lay, 
to content themselves and sit down with such a far-fetch'd 
and ridiculous reason as Plutarch alleadgeth for it. The Jews, 
that can believe the supernatural Solstice of the Sun in the 
days of Joshua, have yet the impudence to deny the Eclipse, 
which every Pagan confessed, at His death: but for this, it 
is evident beyond all contradiction, the Devil himself con- 
fessed it. Certainly it is not a warrantable curiosity, to ex- 
amine the verity of Scripture by the concordance of humane 
history, or seek to confirm the Chronicle of Hester or Daniel, 
by the authority of Megasthenes or Herodotus. I confess, I 

Religio Medici 353 

have had an unhappy curiosity this way, till I laughed my 
self out of it with a piece of Justine, where he delivers that the 
Children of Israel for being scabbed were banished out of 
Egypt. And truely since I have understood the occurrences 
of the World, and know in what counterfeit shapes and deceit- 
ful vizards times present represent on the stage things past, 
I do believe them little more then things to come. Some have 
been of my opinion, and endeavoured to write the History of 
their own lives; wherein Moses hath outgone them all, and 
left not onely the story of his life, but (as some will have it), 
of his death also. 

It is a riddle to me, how this story of Oracles hath not 
worm'd out of the World that doubtful conceit of Spirits and 
Witches; how so many learned heads should so far forget 
their Metaphysicks, and destroy the ladder and scale of crea- 
tures, as to question the existence of Spirits. For my part, I 
have ever believed and do now know, that there are Witches: 
they that doubt of these, do not onely deny them, but Spirits; 
and are obliquely and upon consequence a sort not of Infidels, 
but Atheists. Those that to confute their incredulity desire 
to see apparitions, shall questionless never behold any, nor 
have the power to be so much as Witches; the Devil hath them 
already in a heresie as capital as Witchcraft; and to appear 
to them, were but to convert them. Of all the delusions where- 
with he deceives mortality, there is not any that puzzleth me 
more than the Legerdemain of Changelings. I do not credit 
those transformations of reasonable creatures into beasts, or 
that the Devil hath a power to transpeciate a man into a 
Horse, who tempted CHRIST (as a trial of His Divinity), to 
convert but stones into bread. I could believe that Spirits use 
with man the act of carnality, and that in both sexes; I con- 
ceive they may assume, steal, or contrive a body, wherein 
there may be action enough to content decrepit lust, or passion 
to satisfie more active veneries; yet, in both, without a pos- 
sibility of generation: and therefore that opinion that Anti- 
christ should be born of the Tribe of Dan by conjunction with 
the Devil, is ridiculous, and a conceit fitter for a Rabbin than 

354 Sir Thomas Browne 

a Christian. I hold that the Devil doth really possess some 
men, the spirit of Melancholly others, the spirit of Delusion 
others; that, as the Devil is concealed and denyed by some, 
so GOD and good Angels are pretended by others, whereof the 
late defection of the Maid of Germany hath left a pregnant 

Again, I believe that all that use sorceries, incantations, 
and spells, are not Witches, or, as we term them, Magicians. 
I conceive there is a traditional Magick, not learned imme- 
diately from the Devil, but at second hand from his Scholars, 
who, having once the secret betrayed, are able, and do em- 
perically practise without his advice, they both proceeding 
upon the principles of Nature; where actives, aptly con- 
joyned to disposed passives, will under any Master produce 
their effects. Thus I think at first a great part of Philosophy 
was Witchcraft; which, being afterward derived to one an- 
other, proved but Philosophy, and was indeed no more but 
the honest effects of Nature: what, invented by us, is Philoso- 
phy, learned from him, is Magick. We do surely owe the 
discovery of many secrets to the discovery of good and bad 
Angels. I could never pass that sentence of Paracelsus without 
an asterisk or annotation; Ascendens corfstellatum multa 
revelat quxrentibus magnolia naturx, (i.e. opera DEI). I do 
think that many mysteries ascribed to our own inventions 
have been the courteous revelations of Spirits; (for those 
noble essences in Heaven bear a friendly regard unto their 
fellow Natures on Earth); and therefore believe that those 
many prodigies and ominous prognosticks, which fore-run the 
ruines of States, Princes, and private persons, are the char- 
itable premonitions of good Angels, which more careless en- 
quiries term but the effects of chance and nature. 

Now, besides these particular and divided Spirits, there 
may be (for ought I know), an universal and common Spirit 
to the whole World. It was the opinion of Plato, and it is yet 
of the Hermetical Philosophers. If there be a common nature 
that unites and tyes the scattered and divided individuals 
into one species, why may there not be one that unites them 

Religio Medici 355 

all? However, I am sure there is a common Spirit that plays 
within us, yet makes no part of us; and that is, the Spirit of 
GOD, the fire and scintillation of that noble and mighty Es- 
sence, which is the life and radical heat of Spirits, and those 
essences that know not the vertue of the Sun; a fire quite 
contrary to the fire of Hell. This is that gentle heat that 
brooded on the waters, and in six days hatched the World; 
this is that irradiation that dispels the mists of Hell, the clouds 
of horrour, fear, sorrow, despair; and preserves the region of 
the mind in serenity. Whosoever feels not the warm gale and 
gentle ventilation of this Spirit, though I feel his pulse, I dare 
not say he lives: for truely, without this, to me there is no 
heat under the Tropick; nor any light, though I dwelt in the 
body of the Sun. 

As, when the labouring Sun hath wrought his track 

Up to the top of lofty Cancers back, 

The ycie Ocean cracks, the frozen pole 

Thaws with the heat of the Celestial coale; 

So, when Thy absent beams begin t' impart 

Again a Solstice on my frozen heart, 

My winter's ov'r, my drooping spirits sing, 

And every part revives into a Spring. 

But if Thy quickning beams a while decline, 

And with their light bless not this Orb of mine, 

A chilly frost surpriseth every member, 

And in the midst of June I feel December. 

O how this earthly temper both debase 

The noble Soul, in this her humble place; 

Whose wingy nature ever doth aspire 

To reach that place whence first it took its fire. 

These flames I feel, which in my heart do dwell, 

Are not Thy beams, but take their fire from Hell: 

quench them all, and let Thy Light divine 

Be as the Sun to this poor Orb of mine; 

And to Thy sacred Spirit convert those fires, 

Whose earthly fumes choak my devout aspires. 

35 6 Sir Thomas Browne 

Therefore for Spirits, I am so far from denying their ex- 
istence, that I could easily believe, that not onely whole 
Countries, but particular persons, have their Tutelary and 
Guardian Angels. It is not a new opinion of the Church of 
Rome, but an old one of Pythagoras and Plato; there is no 
heresie in it; and if not manifestly defin'd in Scripture, yet 
is it an opinion of a good and wholesome use in the course 
and actions of a mans life, and would serve as an Hypothesis 
to salve many doubts, whereof common Philosophy affordeth 
no solution. Now, if you demand my opinion and Meta- 
physicks of their natures, I confess them very shallow; most 
of them in a negative way, like that of GOD; or in a compara- 
tive, between ourselves and fellow-creatures; for there is in 
this Universe a Stair, or manifest Scale of creatures, rising 
not disorderly, or in confusion, but with a comely method 
and proportion. Between creatures of meer existence, and 
things of life, there is a large disproportion of nature; between 
plants, and animals or creatures of sense, a wider difference; 
between them and Man, a far greater: and if the proportion 
hold one, between Man and Angels there should be yet a 
greater. We do not comprehend their natures, who retain the 
first definition of Porphyry, and distinguish them from our 
selves by immortality; for before his Fall, 'tis thought, Man 
also was Immortal; yet must we needs affirm that he had a 
different essence from the Angels. Having therefore no certain 
knowledge of their Natures, 'tis no bad method of the Schools, 
whatsoever perfection we find obscurely in our selves, in a 
more compleat and absolute way to ascribe unto them. I be- 
lieve they have an extemporary knowledge, and upon the 
first motion of their reason do what we cannot without study 
or deliberation; that they know things by their forms, and 
define by specifical difference what we describe by accidents 
and properties; and therefore probabilities to us may be dem- 
onstrations unto them: that they have knowledge not onely 
of the specifical, but numerical forms of individuals, and un- 
derstand by what reserved difference each single Hypostasis 
(besides the relation to its species), becomes its numerical 

Religio Medici 357 

self: that, as the Soul hath a power to move the body it in- 
forms, so there's a faculty to move any, though inform none: 
ours upon restraint of time, place, and distance; but that in- 
visible hand that conveyed Habakkuk to the Lyons Den, or 
Philip to Azotus, infringeth this rule, and hath a secret con- 
veyance, wherewith mortality is not acquainted. If they have 
that intuitive knowledge, whereby as in reflexion they behold 
the thoughts of one another, I cannot peremptorily deny but 
they know a great part of ours. They that, to refute the Invo- 
cation of Saints, have denied that they have any knowledge 
of our affairs below, have proceeded too far, and must pardon 
my opinion, till I can thoroughly answer that piece of Scrip- 
ture, At the conversion of a sinner the Angels in Heaven re- 
joyce. I cannot, with those in that great Father, securely 
interpret the work of the first day, Fiat lux, to the creation of 
Angels; though I confess, there is not any creature that hath 
so neer a glympse of their nature as light in the Sun and 
Elements. We stile it a bare accident; but, where it subsists 
alone, 'tis a spiritual Substance, and may be an Angel: in brief, 
conceive light invisible, and that is a Spirit. 

These are certainly the Magisterial and masterpieces of 
the Creator, the Flower, or (as we may say), the best part of 
nothing; actually existing, what we are but in hopes and 
probability. We are onely that amphibious piece between a 
corporal and spiritual Essence, that middle form that links 
those two together, and makes good the Method of GOD and 
Nature, that jumps not from extreams, but unites the incom- 
patible distances by some middle and participating natures. 
That we are the breath and similitude of GOD, it is indis- 
putable, and upon record of Holy Scripture; but to call our- 
selves a Microcosm, or little World, I thought it only a pleasant 
trope of Rhetorick, till my neer judgement and second 
thoughts told me there was a real truth therein. For first we 
are a rude mass, and in the rank of creatures which onely 
are, and have a dull kind of being, not yet priviledged with 
life, or preferred to sense or reason; next we live the life of 
Plants, the life of Animals, the life of Men, and at last the 

358 Sir Thomas Browne 

life of Spirits, running on in one mysterious nature those five 
kinds of existences, which comprehend the creatures, not 
onely of the World, but of the Universe. Thus is Man that 
great and true Amphibium, whose nature is disposed to live, 
not onely like other creatures in divers elements, but in di- 
vided and distinguished worlds: for though there be but one 
to sense, there are two to reason, the one visible, the other 
invisible; whereof Moses seems to have left description, and 
of the other so obscurely, that some parts thereof are yet in 
controversie. And truely, for the first chapters of Genesis, I 
must confess a great deal of obscurity; though Divines have 
to the power of humane reason endeavoured to make all go 
in a literal meaning, yet those allegorical interpretations are 
also probable, and perhaps the mystical method of Moses bred 
up in the Hieroglyphical Schools of the Egyptians. 

Now for that immaterial world, methinks we need not 
wander so far as beyond the first moveable; for even in this 
material Fabrick the Spirits walk as freely exempt from the 
affection of time, place, and motion, as beyond the extreamest 
circumference. Do but extract from the corpulency of bodies, 
or resolve things beyond their first matter, and you discover 
the habitation of Angels, which if I call the ubiquitary and 
omnipresent Essence of GOD, I hope I shall not offend Di- 
vinity: for before the Creation of the World GOD was really 
all things. For the Angels He created no new World, or de- 
terminate mansion, and therefore they are everywhere where 
is His Essence, and do live at a distance even in Himself, 
That GOD made all things for Man, is in some sense true, yet 
not so far as to subordinate the Creation of those purer Crea- 
tures unto ours, though as ministring Spirits they do, and are 
willing to fulfil the will of GOD in these lower and sublunary 
affairs of Man. GOD made all things for Himself, and it is 
impossible He should make them for any other end than His 
own Glory; it is all He can receive, and all that is without 
Himself. For, honour being an external adjunct, and in the 
honourer rather than in the person honoured, it was neces- 
sary to make a Creature, from whom He might receive this 

Religio Medici 359 

homage; and that is, in the other world, Angels, in this, Man; 
which when we neglect, we forget the very end of our Crea- 
tion, and may justly provoke GOD, not onely to repent that 
He hath made the World, but that He hath sworn He would 
not destroy it. That there is but one World, is a conclusion 
of Faith: Aristotle with all his Philosophy hath not been able 
to prove it, and as weakly that the World was eternal. That 
dispute much troubled the Pen of the ancient Philosophers, 
but Moses decided that question, and all is salved with the 
new term of a Creation, that is, a production of something 
out of nothing. And what is that? whatsoever is opposite to 
something; or more exactly, that which is truely contrary 
unto GOD: for He onely is, all others have an existence with 
dependency, and are something but by a distinction. And 
herein is Divinity conformant unto Philosophy, and genera- 
tion not onely founded on contrarieties, but also creation; 
GOD, being all things, is contrary unto nothing, out of which 
were made all things, and so nothing became something, and 
Omneity informed Nullity into an Essence. 

The whole Creation is a Mystery, and particularly that of 
Man. At the blast of His mouth were the rest of the Creatures 
made, and at His bare word they started out of nothing: but 
in the frame of Man (as the Text describes it), He played 
the sensible operator, and seemed not so much to create, as 
make him. When He had separated the materials of other 
creatures, there consequently resulted a form and soul; but, 
having raised the walls of Man, He was driven to a second 
and harder creation of a substance like Himself, an incor- 
ruptible and immortal Soul. For these two affections we have 
the Philosophy and opinion of the Heathens, the flat affirma- 
tive of Plato, and not a negative from Aristotle. There is 
another scruple cast in by Divinity concerning its production, 
much disputed in the Germane auditories, and with that in- 
differency and equality of arguments, as leave the controversie 
undetermined. I am not of Paracelsus mind, that boldly de- 
livers a receipt to make a man without conjunction; yet can- 
not but wonder at the multitude of heads that do deny 

360 Sir Thomas Browne 

traduction, having no other argument to confirm their belief 
then that Rhetorical sentence and Antimetathesis of Augus- 
tine, Creando infunditur, injundendo creatur. Either opinion 
will consist well enough with Religion: yet I should rather 
incline to this, did not one objection haunt me, (not wrung 
from speculations and subtilties, but from common sense and 
observation; not pickt from the leaves of any Author, but 
bred amongst the weeds and tares of mine own brain) ; and 
this is a conclusion from the equivocal and monstrous pro- 
ductions in the conjunction of Man with Beast: for if the 
Soul of man be not transmitted and transfused in the seed of 
the Parents, why are not those productions meerly beasts, 
but have also an impression and tincture of reason in as high 
a measure as it can evidence it self in those improper Organs? 
Nor, truely, can I peremptorily deny that the Soul, in this 
her sublunary estate, is wholly and in all acceptions inorgani- 
cal; but that for the performance of her ordinary actions there 
is required not onely a symmetry and proper disposition of 
Organs, but a Crasis and temper correspondent to its opera- 
tions: yet is not this mass of flesh and visible structure the 
instrument and proper corps of the Soul, but rather of Sense, 
and that the hand of Reason. In our study of Anatomy there 
is a mass of mysterious Philosophy, and such as reduced the 
very Heathens to Divinity: yet, amongst all those rare dis- 
coveries and curious pieces I find in the Fabrick of Man, I 
do not so much content myself, as in that I find not, there is 
no Organ or Instrument for the rational Soul; for in the brain, 
which we term the seat of Reason, there is not any thing of 
moment more than I can discover in the crany of a beast: 
and this is a sensible and no inconsiderable argument of the 
inorganity of the Soul, at least in that sense we usually so 
receive it. Thus we are men, and we know not how: there 
is something in us that can be without us, and will be after us; 
though it is strange that it hath no history what it was before 
as, nor cannot tell how it entred in us. 

Now, for these walls of flesh, wherein the Soul doth seem 
to be immured before the Resurrection, it is nothing but an 

Religio Medici 361 

elemental composition, and a Fabrick that must fall to ashes. 
All flesh is grass, is not onely metaphorically, but literally, 
true; for all those creatures we behold are but the herbs of 
the field, digested into flesh in them, or more remotely carni- 
fied in our selves. Nay further, we are what we all abhor, 
Anthropophagi and Cannibals, devourers not onely of men, 
but of our selves; and that not in an allegory, but a positive 
truth; for all this mass of flesh which we behold, came in at 
our mouths; this frame we look upon, hath been upon our 
trenchers; in brief, we have devour 'd our selves. I cannot be- 
lieve the wisdom of Pythagoras did ever positively, and in 
a literal sense, affirm his Metempsychosis, or impossible trans- 
migration of the Souls of men into beasts. Of all Metamor- 
phoses or transmigrations, I believe only one, that is of Lots 
wife; for that of Nebuchodonosor proceeded not so far: in 
all others I conceive there is no further verity than is con- 
tained in their implicite sense and morality. I believe that the 
whole frame of a beast doth perish, and is left in the same 
state after death as before it was materialled unto life: that 
the Souls of men know neither contrary nor corruption; that 
they subsist beyond the body, and outlive death by the privi- 
ledge of their proper natures, and without a Miracle; that 
the Souls of the faithful, as they leave Earth, take possession 
of Heaven: that those apparitions and ghosts of departed 
persons are not the wandring souls of men, but the unquiet 
walks of Devils, prompting and suggesting us unto mischief, 
blood, and villainy; instilling and stealing into our hearts 
that the blessed Spirits are not at rest in their graves, but 
wander sollicitous of the affairs of the World. But that those 
phantasms appear often, and do frequent Coemeteries, 
Charnel-houses, and Churches, it is because those are the 
dormitories of the dead, where the Devil, like an insolent 
Champion, beholds with pride the spoils and Trophies of his 
Victory over Adam. 

This is that dismal conquest we all deplore, that makes us 
so often cry, Adam, quid fecisti? I thank GOD I have not 
those strait ligaments, or narrow obligations to the World, as 

362 Sir Thomas Browne 

to dote on life, or be convulst and tremble at the name of 
death. Not that I am insensible of the dread and horrour 
thereof; or by raking into the bowels of the deceased, con- 
tinual sight of Anatomies, Skeletons, or Cadaverous reliques, 
like Vespilloes, or Grave-makers, I am become stupid, or have 
forgot the apprehension of Mortality; but that, marshalling 
all the horrours, and contemplating the extremities thereof, 
I find not anything therein able to daunt the courage of a 
man, much less a well-resolved Christian; and therefore am 
not angry at the errour of our first Parents, or unwilling to 
bear a part of this common fate, and like the best of them to 
dye, that is, to cease to breathe, to take a farewel of the ele- 
ments, to be a kind of nothing for a moment, to be within 
one instant of a Spirit. When I take a full view and circle of 
my self without this reasonable moderator, and equal piece of 
Justice, Death, I do conceive my self the miserablest person 
extant. Were there not another life that I hope for, all the 
vanities of this World should not intreat a moments breath 
from me: could the Devil work my belief to imagine I could 
never dye, I would not outlive that very thought. I have so 
abject a conceit of this common way of existence, this retain- 
ing to the Sun and Elements, I cannot think this is to be a 
Man, or to live according to the dignity of humanity. In 
exspectation of a better, I can with patience embrace this life, 
yet in my best meditations do often defie death; I honour any 
man that contemns it, nor can I highly love any that is afraid 
of it: this makes me naturally love a Souldier, and honour 
those tattered and contemptible Regiments that will die at 
the command of a Sergeant. For a Pagan there may be some 
motives to be in love with life; but for a Christian to be 
amazed at death, I see not how he can escape this Dilemma, 
that he is too sensible of this life, or hopeless of the life to 

Some Divines count Adam thirty years old at his Creation, 
because they suppose him created in the perfect age and 
stature of man. And surely we are all out of the computation 
of our age, and every man in some months elder than he be- 

Religio Medici 363 

thinks him; for we live, move, have a being, and are subject 
to the actions of the elements, and the malice of diseases, in 
that other World, the truest Microcosm, the Womb of our 
Mother. For besides that general and common existence we 
are conceived to hold in our Chaos, and whilst we sleep within 
the bosome of our causes, we enjoy a being and life in three 
distinct worlds, wherein we receive most manifest graduations. 
In that obscure World and Womb of our Mother, our time 
is short, computed by the Moon, yet longer than the days of 
many creatures that behold the Sun; our selves being not yet 
without life, sense, and reason; though for the manifestation 
of its actions, it awaits the opportunity of objects, and seems 
to live there but in its root and soul of vegetation. Entring 
afterwards upon the scene of the World, we arise up and be- 
come another creature, performing the reasonable actions of 
man, and obscurely manifesting that part of Divinity in us; 
but not in complement and perfection, till we have once more 
cast our secondine, that is, this slough of flesh, and are de- 
livered into the last World, that is, that ineffable place of 
Paul, that proper ubi of Spirits. The smattering I have of the 
Philosophers Stone (which is something more then the perfect 
exaltation of gold), hath taught me a great deal of Divinity, 
and instructed my belief, how that immortal spirit and incor- 
ruptible substance of my Soul may lye obscure, and sleep a 
while within this house of flesh. Those strange and mystical 
transmigrations that I have observed in Silkworms, turned 
my Philosophy into Divinity. There is in these works of na- 
ture, which seem to puzzle reason, something Divine, and hath 
more in it than the eye of a common spectator doth discover. 
I am naturally bashful; nor hath conversation, age, or 
travel, been able to effront or enharden me; yet I have one 
part of modesty which I have seldom discovered in another, 
that is, (to speak truely), I am not so much afraid of death, 
as ashamed thereof. 'Tis the very disgrace and ignominy of 
our natures, that in a moment can so disfigure us, that our 
nearest friends, Wife, and Children, stand afraid and start 
at us: the Birds and Beasts of the field, that before in a natural 

564 Sir Thomas Browne 

fear obeyed us, forgetting all allegiance, begin to prey upon 
us. This very conceit hath in a tempest disposed and left me 
willing to be swallowed up in the abyss of waters, wherein I 
had perished unseen, unpityed, without wondering eyes, tears 
of pity, Lectures of mortality, and none had said, 

Quantum mutatus ab illo/ 

Not that I am ashamed of the Anatomy of my parts, or can 
accuse Nature for playing the bungler in any part of me, or 
my own vitious life for contracting any shameful disease upon 
me, whereby I might not call my self as wholesome a morsel 
for the worms as any. 

Some, upon the courage of a fruitful issue, wherein, as ip 
the truest Chronicle, they seem to outlive themselves, can 
with greater patience away with death. This conceit and 
counterfeit subsisting in our progenies seems to me a meer 
fallacy, unworthy the desires of a man that can but conceive 
a thought of the next World ; who, in a nobler ambition, should 
desire to live in his substance in Heaven, rather than his name 
and shadow in the earth. And therefore at my death I mean 
to take a total adieu of the World, not caring for a Monu- 
ment, History, or Epitaph, not so much as the bare memory 
of my name to be found any where but in the universal Reg- 
ister of GOD. I am not yet so Cynical as to approve the Testa- 
ment of Diogenes; nor do I altogether allow that Rodomon- 
tado of Lucan, 

Cxlo tegitur, qui non habet urnam. 

He that unburied lies wants not his Herse, 
For unto him a Tomb's the Universe. 

but commend in my calmer judgement those ingenuous inten- 
tions that desire to sleep by the urns of their Fathers, and 
strive to go the neatest way unto corruption. I do not envy 
the temper of Crows and Daws, nor the numerous and weary 
days of our Fathers before the Flood. If there be any truth 
in Astrology, I may outlive a Jubilee: as yet I have not seen 

Religio Medici 365 

one revolution of Saturn, nor hath my pulse beat thirty years; 
and yet, excepting one, have seen the Ashes and left under 
ground all the Kings of Europe; have been contemporary to 
three Emperours, four Grand Signiours, and as many Popes. 
Methinks I have outlived my self, and begin to be weary of 
the Sun; I have shaken hands with delight, in my warm blood 
and Canicular days, I perceive I do anticipate the vices of 
age; the Wotld to me is but a dream or mock-show, and we 
all therein but Pantalones and Anticks, to my severer con- 

It is not, I confess, an unlawful Prayer to desire to surpass 
the days of our Saviour, or wish to outlive that age wherein 
He thought fittest to dye; yet if (as Divinity affirms), there 
shall be no gray hairs in Heaven, but all shall rise in the perfect 
state of men, we do but outlive those perfections in this World, 
to be recalled unto them by a greater Miracle in the next, 
and run on here but to be retrograde hereafter. Were there 
any hopes to outlive vice, or a point to be superannuated from 
sin, it were worthy our knees to implore the days of Methuse- 
lah. But age doth not rectify, but incurvate our natures, 
turning bad dispositions into worser habits, and (like dis- 
eases), brings on incurable vices; for every day as we grow 
weaker in age, we grow stronger in sin, and the number of 
our days doth but make our sins innumerable. The same vice 
committed at sixteen, is not the same, though it agree in all 
other circumstances, at forty, but swells and doubles from 
the circumstance of our ages; wherein, besides the constant 
and inexcusable habit of transgressing, the maturity of our 
judgment cuts off pretence unto excuse or pardon. Every sin. 
the of tner it is committed, the more it acquireth in the quality 
of evil; as it succeeds in time, so it proceeds in degrees of 
badness; for as they proceed they ever multiply, and, like 
figures in Arithmetick, the last stands for more than all that 
went before it. And though I think no man can live well once, 
but he that could live twice, yet for my own part I would 
not live over my hours past, or begin again the thread of my 

366 Sir Thomas Browne 

days: not upon Cicero's ground, because I have Hved them 
well, but for fear I should live them worse. I find my growing 
Judgment daily instruct me how to be better, but my untamed 
affections and confirmed vitiosity makes me daily do worse. 
I find in my confirmed age the same sins I discovered in my 
youth; I committed many then, because I was a Child; and 
because I commit them still, I am yet an infant. Therefore I 
perceive a man may be twice a Child, before the days of 
dotage; and stand in need of ^Esons Bath before threescore. 

And truly there goes a great deal of providence to produce 
a mans life unto threescore: there is more required than an 
able temper for those years; though the radical humour con- 
tain in it sufficient oyl for seventy, yet I perceive in some it 
gives no light past thirty: men assign not all the causes of 
long life, that write whole Books thereof. They that found 
themselves on the radical balsome, or vital sulphur of the 
parts, determine not why Abel lived not so long as Adam. 
There is therefore a secret glome or bottome of our days : 'twas 
His wisdom to determine them, but His perpetual and waking 
providence that fulfils and accomplisheth them; wherein the 
spirits, ourselves, and all the creatures of GOD in a secret and 
disputed way do execute His will. Let them not therefore com- 
plain of immaturity that die about thirty; they fall but like 
the whole World, whose solid and well-composed substance 
must not expect the duration and period of its constitution: 
when all things are completed in it, its age is accomplished; 
and the last and general fever may as naturally destroy it 
before six thousand, as me before forty. There is therefore 
some other hand that twines the thread of life than that of 
Nature: we are not onely ignorant in Antipathies and occult 
qualities; our ends are as obscure as our beginnings; the line 
of our days is drawn by night, and the various effects therein 
by a pensil that is invisible; wherein though we confess our 
ignorance, I am sure we do not err if we say it is the hand of 

I am much taken with two verses of Lucan, since I have 

Religio Medici 367 

been able not onely, as we do at School, to construe, but un- 

Victurosque Dei celant, ut vivere durent, 
Felix esse mori. 

We're all deluded, vainly searching ways 
To make us happy by the length of days ; 
For cunningly to make's protract this breath, 
The Gods conceal the happiness of Death. 

There be many excellent strains in that Poet, wherewith his 
Stoical Genius hath liberally supplied him; and truely there 
are singular pieces in the Philosophy of Zeno, and doctrine 
of the Stoicks, which I perceive, delivered in a Pulpit, pass 
for current Divinity: yet herein are they in extreams, that 
can allow a man to be his own Assassine, and so highly extol 
the end and suicide of Cato. This is indeed not to fear death, 
but yet to be afraid of life. It is a brave act of valour to con- 
temn death; but where life is more terrible than death, ft is 
then the truest valour to dare to live. And herein Religion 
hath taught us a noble example; for all the valiant acts of 
Curtius, Scevola, or Codrus, do not parallel or match that 
one of Job; and sure there is no torture to the rack of a 
disease, nor any Ponyards in death it self like those in the 
way or prologue to it. 

Emori nolo, sed me esse mortuum nihU euro. 

I would not die, but care not to be dead. 

Were I of Caesar's Religion, I should be of his desires, and 
wish rather to go off at one blow, then to be sawed in pieces 
by the grating torture of a disease. Men that look no farther 
than their outsides, think health an appurtenance unto life, 
and quarrel with their constitutions for being sick; but I, 
that have examined the parts of man, and know upon what 
tender filaments that Fabrick hangs, do wonder that we are 
not always so; and, considering the thousand doors that lead 

368 Sir Thomas Browne 

to death, do thank my GOD that we can die but once. Tis not 
onely the mischief of diseases, and the villany of poysons, that 
make an end of us; we vainly accuse the fury of Guns, and 
the new inventions of death ; it is in the power of every hand 
to destroy us, and we are beholding unto every one we meet, 
he doth not kill us. There is therefore but one comfort left, 
that, though it be in the power of the weakest arm to take 
away life, it is not in the strongest to deprive us of death: 
GOD would not exempt Himself from that, the misery of im- 
mortality in the flesh, He undertook not that was immortal. 
Certainly there is no happiness within this circle of flesh, nor 
is it in the Opticks of these eyes to behold felicity. The first 
day of our Jubilee is Death; the Devil hath therefore failed 
of his desires: we are happier with death than we should have 
been without it: there is no misery but in himself, where there 
is no end of misery; and so indeed, in his own sense, the Stoick 
is in the right. He forgets that he can dye who complains of 
misery; we are in the power of no calamity while death is in 
our own. 

Now, besides this literal and positive kind of death, there 
are others whereof Divines make mention, and those, I think, 
not meerly Metaphorical, as mortification, dying unto sin 
and the World. Therefore, I say, every man hath a double 
Horoscope, one of his humanity, his birth; another of his 
Christianity, his baptism; and from this do I compute or 
calculate my Nativity, not reckoning those Horx combust & 
and odd days, or esteeming my self any thing, before I was 
my Saviours, and inrolled in the Register of CHRIST. Whoso- 
ever enjoys not this life, I count him but an apparition, though 
he wear about him the sensible affections of flesh. In these 
moral acceptions, the way to be immortal is to dye daily: nor 
can I think I have the true Theory of death, when I contem- 
plate a skull, or behold a Skeleton, with those vulgar imagina- 
tions it casts upon us; I have therefore enlarged that common 
Memento mori f wto a more Christian memorandum, Memento 
quatuor Novissima, those four inevitable points of us all, 
Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell. Neither did the con- 

Religio Medici 369 

temptations of the Heathens rest in their graves, without a 
further thought of Rhadamanth, or some judicial proceeding 
after death, though in another way, and upon suggestion of 
their natural reasons. I cannot but marvail from what Sibyl 
or Oracle they stole the Prophesie of the Worlds destruction 
by fire, or whence Lucan learned to say, 

Communis mundo superest rogus, ossibus astra 

There yet remains to th' World one common Fire, 
Wherein our bones with stars shall make one Pyre. 

I believe the World grows near its end, yet is neither old nor 
decayed, nor shall ever perish upon the mines of its own 
Principles. As the work of Creation was above Nature, so is 
its adversary, annihilation; without which the World hath 
not its end, but its mutation. Now what force should be able 
to consume it thus far, without the breath of GOD, which is 
the truest consuming flame, my Philosophy cannot inform 
me. Some believe there went not a minute to the Worlds crea- 
tion, nor shall there go to its destruction; those six days, so 
punctually described, make not to them one moment, but 
rather seem to manifest the method and Idea of the great 
work of the intellect of GOD, than the manner how He pro- 
ceeded in its operation. I cannot dream that there should be 
at the last day any such Judicial proceeding, or calling to the 
Bar, as indeed the Scripture seems to imply, and the literal 
Commentators do conceive: for unspeakable mysteries in the 
Scriptures are often delivered in a vulgar and illustrative 
way; and, being written unto man, are delivered, not as they 
truely are, but as they may be understood; wherein, notwith- 
standing, the different interpretations according to different 
capacities may stand firm with our devotion, nor be any way 
prejudicial to each single edification. 

Now to determine the day and year of this inevitable time, 
is not onely conyincible and statute-madness, but also mani- 
feft impiety, Etar ihatt we interpret Ellas six thousand yean, 

370 Sir Thomas Browne 

or imagine the secret communicated to a Rabbi, which GOD 
hath denyed unto His Angels? It had been an excellent Quaere 
to have posed the Devil of Delphos, and must needs have 
forced him to some strange amphibology. It hath not onely 
mocked the predictions of sundry Astrologers in Ages past, but 
the prophesies of many melancholy heads in these present; 
who, neither understanding reasonably things past or present, 
pretend a knowledge of things to come; heads ordained onely 
to manifest the incredible effects of melancholy, and to fulfil 
old prophecies rather than be the authors of new. In those 
days there shall come Wars and rumours of Wars, to me seems 
no prophecy, but a constant truth, in all times verified since 
it was pronounced. There shall be signs in the Moon and Stars; 
how comes He then like a Thief in the night, when He gives 
an item of His coming? That common sign drawn from the 
revelation of Antichrist, is as obscure as any: in our common 
compute He hath been come these many years: but for my 
own part, (to speak freely), I am half of opinion that Anti- 
christ is the Philosopher's stone in Divinity, for the discovery 
and invention whereof, though there be prescribed rules and 
probable inductions, yet hath hardly any man attained the 
perfect discovery thereof. That general opinion that the World 
grows near its end, hath possessed all ages past as nearly as 
ours. I am afraid that the Souls that now depart, cannot escape 
that lingring expostulation of the Saints under the Altar, 
Quousque, DOMINE? How long, LORD? and groan in the 
expectation of that great Jubilee. 

This is the day that must make good that great attribute 
of GOD, His Justice; that must reconcile those unanswerable 
doubts that torment the wisest understandings; and reduce 
those seeming inequalities and respective distributions in this 
world, to an equality and recompensive Justice in the next. 
This is that one day, that shall include and comprehend all 
that went before it; wherein, as in the last scene, all the Actors 
must enter, to compleat and make up the Catastrophe of this 
great piece. This is the day whose memory hath onely power 

Religio Medici 371 

to make us honest in the dark, and to be vertuous without a 

Ipsa sui pretium virtus sibi, 

that Vertue is her own reward, is but a cold principle, and 
not able to maintain our variable resolutions in a constant 
and settled way of goodness. I have practised that honest 
artifice of Seneca, and in my retired and solitary imaginations, 
to detain me from the foulness of vice, have fancied to my 
self the presence of my dear and worthiest friends, before 
whom I should lose my head, rather than be vitious: yet herein 
I found that there was nought but moral honesty, and this 
was not to be vertuous for His sake Who must reward us at 
the last. I have tryed if I could reach that great resolution of 
his, to be honest without a thought of Heaven or Hell: and 
indeed I found, upon a natural inclination and inbred loyalty 
unto virtue, that I could serve her without a livery; yet not 
in that resolved and venerable way, but that the frailty of my 
nature, upon an easie temptation, might be induced to forget 
her. The life, therefore, and spirit of all our actions is the 
resurrection, and a stable apprehension that our ashes shall 
enjoy the fruit of our pious endeavours: without this, all 
Religion is a Fallacy, and those impieties of Lucian, Euripides, 
and Julian, are no blasphemies, but subtle verities, and Athe^ 
ists have been the onely Philosophers. 

How shall the dead arise, is no question of my Faith; to 
believe only possibilities, is not Faith, but meer Philosophy. 
Many things are true in Divinity, which are neither inducible 
by reason, nor confirmable by sense; and many things in 
Philosophy confirmable by sense, yet not inducible by reason. 
Thus it is impossible by any solid or demonstrative reasons to 
perswade a man to believe the conversion of the Needle to 
the North; though this be possible, and true, and easily 
credible, upon a single experiment unto the sense. I believe 
that our estranged and divided ashes shall unite again; that 
our separated dust, after so many Pilgrimages and transforma- 
tions into the parts of Minerals, Plants, Animals, Elements, 

37* Sir Thomas Browne 

shall at the Voice of GOD return into their primitive shapes, 
and joyn again to make up their primary and predestinate 
forms. As at the Creation there was a separation of that con- 
fused mass into its species; so at the destruction thereof there 
shall be a separation into its distinct individuals. As at the 
Creation of the World, all the distinct species that we behold 
lay involved in one mass, till the fruitful Voice of GOD separ- 
ated this united multitude into its several species; so at the 
last day, when those corrupted reliques shall be scattered in 
the Wilderness of forms, and seem to have forgot their proper 
habits, GOD by a powerful Voice shall command them back 
into their proper shapes, and call them out by their single 
individuals. Then shall appear the fertility of Adam, and the 
magick of that sperm that hath dilated into so many millions. 
I have often beheld as a miracle, that artificial resurrection 
and revivification of Mercury, how being mortified into a 
thousand shapes, it assumes again its own, and returns into its 
numerical self. Let us speak naturally and like Philosophers; 
the forms of alterable bodies in these sensible corruptions 
perish not; nor, as we imagine, wholly quit their mansions, but 
retire and contract themselves into their secret and unacces- 
sible parts, where they may best protect themselves from the 
action of their Antagonist, A plant or vegetable consumed to 
ashes to a contemplative and school-Philosopher seems utterly 
destroyed, and the form to have taken his leave for ever; but 
to a sensible Artist the forms are not perished, but withdrawn 
into their incombustible part, where they lie secure from the 
action of that devouring element. This is made good by ex- 
perience, which can from the Ashes of a Plant revive the plant, 
and from its cinders recall it into its stalk and leaves again. 
What the Art of man can do in these inferiour pieces, what 
blasphemy is it to affirm the finger of GOD cannot do in these 
more perfect and sensible structures! This is that mystical 
Philosophy, from whence no true Scholar becomes an Atheist, 
but from the visible effects of nature grows up a real Divine, 
and beholds not in a dream, as Ezekiel, but in an ocular and 
visible object, the types of his resurrection. 

Religio Medici 373 

Now, the necessary Mansions of our restored selves are 
those two contrary and incomparable places we call Heaven 
and Hell. To define them, or strictly to determine what and 
where these are f surpasseth my Divinity. That elegant Apostle, 
which seemed to have a glimpse of Heaven, hath left but a 
negative description thereof; which neither eye hath seen, nor 
ear hath heard, nor can enter into the heart of man: he was 
translated out of himself to behold it; but, being returned into 
himself, could not express it. St. John's description by Emer- 
als, Chrysolites, and precious Stones, is too weak to express 
the material Heaven we behold. Briefly therefore, where the 
Soul hath the full measure and complement of happiness; 
where the boundless appetite of that spirit remains compleatly 
satisfied, that it can neither desire addition nor alteration; 
that, I think, is truly Heaven: and this can onely be in the 
injoyment of that essence, whose infinite goodness is able to 
terminate the desires of it self, and the unsatiable wishes of 
ours: wherever GOD will thus manifest Himself, there is 
Heaven, though within the circle of this sensible world. Thus 
the Soul of man may be in Heaven any where, even within the 
limits of his own proper body; and when it ceaseth to live in 
the body, it may remain in its own soul, that is, its Creator: 
and thus we may say that St. Paul, whether in the body, or 
out of the body, was yet in Heaven. To place it in the Empy- 
real, or beyond the tenth sphear, is to forget the world's de- 
struction; for, when this sensible world shall be destroyed, all 
shall then be here as it is now there, an Empyreal Heaven, a 
quasi vacuity; when to ask where Heaven is, is to demand 
where the presence of GOD is, or where we have the glory of 
that happy vision. Moses, that was bred up in all the learning 
of the Egyptians, committed a gross absurdity in Philosophy, 
when with these eyes of flesh he desired to see GOD, and peti- 
tioned his Maker, that is, Truth it self, to a contradiction. 
Those that imagine Heaven and Hell neighbours, and conceive 
a vicinity between those two extreams, upon consequence of 
the Parable, where Dives discoursed with Lazarus in Abra- 
ham's bosome, do too grosly conceive of those glorified crea- 

374 Sir Thomas Browne 

tares, whose eyes shall easily out-see the Sun, and behold 
without a perspective the extreamest distances: for if there 
shall be in our glorified eyes, the faculty of sight and reception 
of objects, I could think the visible species there to be in as 
unlimitable a way as now the intellectual. I grant that two 
bodies placed beyond the tenth sphear, or in a vacuity, accord- 
ing to Aristotle's Philosophy, could not behold each other, 
because there wants a body or Medium to hand and transport 
the visible rays of the object unto the sense; but when there 
shall be a general defect of either Medium to convey, or light 
to prepare and dispose that Medium, and yet a perfect vision, 
we must suspend the rules of our Philosophy, and make all 
good by a more absolute piece of opticks. 

I cannot tell how to say that fire is the essence of Hell: I 
know not what to make of Purgatory, or conceive a flame that 
can either prey upon, or purifie the substance of a Soul. Those 
flames of sulphur mentioned in the Scriptures, I take not to be 
understood of this present Hell, but of that to come, where 
fire shall make up the complement of our tortures, and have 
a body or subject wherein to manifest its tyranny. Some, who 
have had the honour to be textuary in Divinity, are of opinion 
it shall be the same specifical fire with ours. This is hard to 
conceive; yet can I make good how even that may prey upon 
our bodies, and yet not consume us: for in this material World 
there are bodies that persist invincible in the powerfullest 
flames; and though by the action of fire they fall into ignition 
and liquation, yet will they never suffer a destruction. I would 
gladly know how Moses with an actual fire calcined or burnt 
the Golden Calf unto powder: for that mystical metal of Gold, 
whose solary and celestial nature I admire, exposed unto the 
violence of fire, grows onely hot, and liquifies, but consumeth 
not; so, when the consumable and volatile pieces of our bodies 
shall be refined into a more impregnable and fixed temper like 
Gold, though they suffer from the action of flames, they shall 
never perish, but lye immortal in the arms of fire. And surely, if 
this frame must suffer onely by the action of this element, 
there will many bodies escape; and not onely Heaven, but 

Religio Medici 375 

Earth will not be at an end, but rather a beginning. For at 
present it is not earth, but a composition of fire, water, earti^ 
and air; but at that time, spoiled of these ingredients, it shall 
appear in a substance more like it self, its ashes. Philosophers 
that opinioned the worlds destruction by fire, did never dream 
of annihilation, which is beyond the power of sublunary 
causes; for the last and proper action of that element is but 
vitrification, or a reduction of a body into glass; and therefore 
some of our Chymicks facetiously affirm, that at the last fire 
all shall be christallized and reverberated into glass, which is 
the utmost action of that element. Nor need we fear this term, 
annihilation, or wonder that GOD will destroy the works of his 
Creation; for man subsisting, who is, and will then truely 
appear, a Microcosm, the world cannot be said to be destroyed,. 
For the eyes of GOD, and perhaps also of our glorified selves, 
shall as really behold and contemplate the World in its Epi- 
tome or contracted essence, as now it doth at large and in its 
dilated substance. In the seed of a Plant to the eyes of GOD, 
and to the understanding of man, there exists, though in an 
invisible way, the perfect leaves, flowers, and fruit thereof; 
for things that are in posse to the sense, are actually existent 
to the understanding. Thus GOD beholds all things, Who con- 
templates as fully His works in their Epitome, as in their full 
volume; and beheld as amply the whole world in that little 
compendium of the sixth day, as in the scattered and dilated 
pieces of those five before. 

Men commonly set forth the torments of Hell by fire, and 
the extremity of corporal afflictions, and describe Hell in the 
same method that Mahomet doth Heaven. This indeed makes 
a noise, and drums in popular ears: but if this be the terrible 
piece thereof, it is not worthy to stand in diameter withHeaven, 
whose happiness consists in that part that is best able to com- 
prehend it, that immortal essence, that translated divinity and 
colony of GOD, the Soul. Surely, though we place Hell under 
Earth, the DeviPs walk and purlue is about it: men speak too 
popularly who place it in those flaming mountains, which to 
grosser apprehensions represent Hell. The heart of man is the 

376 Sir Thomas Browne 

place DevUs dwell in: I feel sometimes a Hell within my self; 
Lucifer keeps his Court in my breast, Legion is revived in me. 
There are as many Hells, as Anaxagoris conceited worlds. 
There was more than one Hell in Magdalene, when there were 
seven Devils, for every Devil is an Hell unto himself; he holds 
enough of torture in his own ubi, and needs not the misery of 
circumference to afflict him: and thus a distracted Conscience 
here, is a shadow or introduction unto Hell hereafter. Who 
can but pity the merciful intention of those hands that do 
destroy themselves? the Devil, were it in his power, would 
do the like; which being impossible, his miseries are endless, 
and he suffers most in that attribute wherein he is impassible, 
his immortality. 

I thank GOD, and with joy I mention it, I was never afraid 
of Hell, nor never grew pale at the description of that place. I 
have so fixed my contemplations on Heaven, that I have 
almost forgot the Idea of Hell, and am afraid rather to lose 
the Joys of the one, than endure the misery of the other: to 
be deprived of them is a perfect Hell, and needs, methinks, no 
addition to compleat our afflictions. That terrible term hath 
never detained me from sin, nor do I owe any good action to 
the name thereof. I fear GOD, yet am not afraid of Him: His 
Mercies make me ashamed of my sins, before His Judgements 
afraid thereof. These are the forced and secondary method of 
His wisdom, which He useth but as the last remedy, and upon 
provocation; a course rather to deter the wicked, than incite 
the virtuous to His worship. I can hardly think there was ever 
any scared into Heaven; they go the fairest way to Heaven 
that would serve GOD without a Hell; other Mercenaries, that 
crouch into Him in fear of Hell, though they term themselves 
the servants, are indeed but the slaves, of the Almighty. 

And to be true, and speak my soul, when I survey the occur- 
rences of my life, and call into account the Finger of GOD, I 
can perceive nothing but an abyss and mass of mercies, either 
in general to mankind, or in particular to my self. And 
(whether out of the prejudice of my affection, or an inverting 
and partial conceit of His mercies, I know not; but) those 

Religio Medici 377 

which others term crosses, afflictions, judgements, misfortunes, 
to me, who inquire farther into them then their visible effects, 
they both appear, and in event have ever proved, the secret 
and dissembled favours of His affection. It is a singular piece 
of Wisdom to apprehend truly, and without passion, the 
Works of GOD, and so well to distinguish His Justice from His 
Mercy, as not to miscall those noble Attributes: yet it is like- 
wise an honest piece of Logick, so to dispute and argue the 
proceedings of GOD, as to distinguish even His judgements into 
mercies. For GOD is merciful unto all, because better to the 
worst than the best deserve; and to say He punisheth none in 
this World, though it be a Paradox, is no absurdity. To one 
that hath committed Murther, if the Judge should only ordain 
a Fine, it were a madness to call this a punishment, and to 
repine at the sentence, rather than admire the clemency of 
the Judge. Thus, our offences being mortal, and deserving not 
only Death, but Damnation, if the goodness of GOD be content 
to traverse and pass them over with a loss, misfortune, or 
disease, what f rensie were it to term this a punishment rather 
than an extremity of mercy, and to groan under the rod of His 
Judgements, rather than admire the Scepter of His Mercies! 
Therefore to adore, honour, and admire Him, is a debt of 
gratitude due from the obligation of our nature, states, and 
conditions; and with these thoughts, He that knows them best, 
will not deny that I adore Him. That I obtain Heaven, and the 
bliss thereof, is accidental, and not the intended work of my 
devotion; it being a felicity I can neither think to deserve, 
nor scarce in modesty to expect. For these two ends of us all, 
either as rewards or punishments, are mercifully ordained and 
disproportionably disposed unto our actions; the one being so 
far beyond our deserts, the other so infinitely below our 

There is no Salvation to those that believe not in CHRIST, 
that is, say some, since His Nativity, and, as Divinity affirm- 
eth, before also; which makes me much apprehend the ends 
of those honest Worthies and Philosophers which dyed before 
His Incaraaiioa. It ifi hard to place those Souls in Hell, whoaa 

378 Sir Thomas Browne 

worthy lives do teach us Virtue on Earth; methinks, amongst 
those many subdivisions of Hell, there might have been one 
Limbo left for these. What a strange vision will it be to see 
their Poetical fictions converted into Verities, and their imag- 
ined and fancied Furies into real Devils! How strange to 
them will sound the History of Adam, when they shall suffer 
for him they never heard of! when they who derive their 
genealogy from the Gods, shall know they are the unhappy 
issue of sinful man! It is an insolent part of reason, to contro- 
vert the Works of GOD, or question the Justice of His proceed- 
ings. Could Humility teach others, as it hath instructed me, 
to contemplate the infinite and incomprehensible distance 
betwixt the Creator and the Creature; or did we seriously per- 
pend that one simile of St. Paul, Shall the Vessel say to the 
Potter 9 "Why hast thou made me thus?' 9 it would prevent 
these arrogant disputes of reason; nor would we argue the 
definitive sentence of GOD, either to Heaven or Hell. Men that 
live according to the right rule and law of reason, live but in 
their own kind, as beasts do in theirs; who justly obey the 
prescript of their natures, and therefore cannot reasonably 
demand a reward of their actions, as onely obeying the natural 
dictates of their reason. It will, therefore, and must at last 
appear, that all salvation is through CHRIST; which verity, I 
fear, these great examples of virtue must confirm, and make it 
good how the perf ectest actions of earth have no title or claim 
unto Heaven. 

Nor truely do I think the lives of these, or of any other, 
were ever correspondent, or in all points conformable, unto 
their doctrines. It is evident that Aristotle transgressed the 
rule of his own Ethicks. The Stoicks that condemn passion, 
and command a man to laugh at Phalaris his Bull, could not 
endure without a groan a fit of the Stone or Colick. The Scep- 
ticks that affirmed they knew nothing, even in that opinion 
confute themselves, and thought they knew more than all the 
World beside. Diogenes I hold to be the most vain-glorious 
man of his time, and more ambitious in refusing all Honours, 
than Alexander in rejecting none. Vice and the Devil put a 

Religio Medici 379 

Fallacy upon our Reasons, and, provoking us too hastily to 
run from it, entangle and profound us deeper in it. The Duke 
of Venice, that weds himself unto the Sea by a Ring of Gold, 
I will not argue of prodigality, because it is a solemnity of 
good use and consequence in the State: but the Philosopher 
that threw his money into the Sea to avoid Avarice, was a 
notorious prodigal. There is no road or ready way to virtue: it 
is not an easie point of art to disentangle our selves from this 
riddle, or web of Sin. To perfect virtue, as to Religion, there 
is required a Panoplia, or compleat armour; that, whilst we 
lye at close ward against one Vice, we lye not open to the 
venny of another. And indeed wiser discretions that have the 
thred of reason to conduct them, offend without pardon; 
whereas under-heads may stumble without dishonour. There 
go so many circumstances to piece up one good action, that it 
is a lesson to be good, and we are forced to be virtuous by the 
book. Again, the Practice of men holds not an equal pace, yea, 
and often runs counter to their Theory: we naturally know 
what is good, but naturally pursue what is evil: the Rhetorick 
wherewith I perswade another, cannot perswade my self. 
There is a depraved appetite in us, that will with patience 
hear the learned instructions of Reason, but yet perform no 
farther than agrees to its own irregular humour. In brief, we 
all are monsters, that is, a composition of Man and Beast, 
wherein we must endeavour to be as the Poets fancy that wise 
man Chiron, that is, to have the Region of Man above that 
of Beast, and Sense to sit but at the feet of Reason. Lastly, I 
do desire with GOD that all, but yet affirm with men that few, 
shall know Salvation; that the bridge is narrow, the passage 
strait, unto life: yet those who do confine the Church of GOD, 
either to particular Nations, Churches, or Families, have made 
it far narrower than our Saviour ever meant it. 

The vulgarity of those judgements that wrap the Church of 
GOD in Strabo's cloak, and restrain it unto Europe, seem to 
me as bad Geographers as Alexander, who thought he had 
Conquer'd all the World, when he had not subdued the half 
of any part thereof. For we cannot deny the Church of GOD 

380 Sir Thomas Browne 

both in Asia and Africa, if we do not forget the Peregrinations 
of the Apostles, the deaths of the Martyrs, the Sessions of 
many and (even in our reformed judgement) lawful Councils, 
held in those parts in the minority and nonage of ours. Nor 
must a few differences, more remarkable in the eyes of man 
than perhaps in the judgement of GOD, excommunicate from 
Heaven one another; much less those Christians who are in a 
manner all Martyrs, maintaining their Faith in the noble way 
of persecution, and serving GOD in the Fire, whereas we 
honour him but in the Sunshine. Tis true we all hold there is 
a number of Elect, and many to be saved; yet, take our 
Opinions together, and from the confusion thereof there will 
be no such thing as salvation, nor shall any one be saved. For 
first, the Church of Rome condemneth us, we likewise them; 
the Subreformists and Sectaries sentence the Doctrine of our 
Church as damnable; the Atomist, or Familist, reprobates all 
these; and all these, them again. Thus, whilst the Mercies of 
GOD do promise us Heaven, our conceits and opinions exclude 
us from that place. There must be, therefore, more than one 
St. Peter: particular Churches and Sects usurp the gates of 
Heaven, and turn the key against each other; and thus we go 
to Heaven against each others wills, conceits, and opinions, 
and, with as much uncharity as ignorance, do err, I fear, in 
points not only of our own, but one anothers salvation. 

I believe many are saved, who to man seem reprobated; 
and many are reprobated, who, in the opinion and sentence 
of man, stand elected. There will appear at the Last day 
strange and unexpected examples both of His Justice and His 
Mercy; and therefore to define either, is folly in man, and 
insolency even in the Devils. Those acute and subtil spirits, 
in all their sagacity, can hardly divine who shall be saved; 
which if they could Prognostick, their labour were at an end, 
nor need they compass the earth seeking whom they may de- 
vour. Those who, upon a rigid application of the Law, sentence 
Solomon unto damnation, condemn not onely him, but them- 
selves, and the whole World: for, by the Letter and written 
Word of GOD, we are without exception in the state of Death; 

Religio Medici 381 

but there is a prerogative of GOD, and an arbitrary pleasure 
above the Letter of His own Law, by which alone we can pre- 
tend unto Salvation, and through which Solomon might be as 
easily saved as those who condemn him. 

The number of those who pretend unto Salvation, and those 
infinite swarms who think to pass through the eye of this 
Needle, have much amazed me. That name and compilation 
of little Flock, doth not comfort, but deject, my Devotion; 
especially when I reflect upon mine own unworthiness, wherein, 
according to my humble apprehensions, I am below them all. 
I believe there shall never be an Anarchy in Heaven; but, as 
there are Hierarchies amongst the Angels, so shall there be 
degrees of priority amongst the Saints. Yet is it (I protest), 
beyond my ambition to aspire unto the first ranks; my desires 
onely are (and I shall be happy therein), to be but the last 
man, and bring up the Rere in Heaven. 

Again, I am confident and fully perswaded, yet dare not take 
my oath, of my Salvation. I am as it were sure, and do believe 
without all doubt, that there is such a City as Constantinople; 
yet for me to take my Oath thereon were a kind of Perjury, 
because I hold no infallible warrant from my own sense to 
confirm me in the certainty thereof. And truly, though many 
pretend an absolute certainty of their Salvation, yet, when an 
humble Soul shall contemplate her own unworthiness, she shall 
meet with many doubts, and suddenly find how little we stand 
in need of the Precept of St. Paul, Work out your salvation 
with fear and trembling. That which is the cause of my Elec- 
tion, I hold to be the cause of my Salvation, which was the 
mercy and beneplacit of GOD, before I was, or the foundation 
of the World. Before Abraham was, I am, is the saying of 
CHRIST; yet is it true in some sense, if I say it of my self; for 
I was not onely before my self, but Adam, that is, in the Idea 
of GOD, and the decree of that Synod held from all Eternity. 
And in this sense, I say, the World was before the Creation, 
and at an end before it had a beginning; and thus was I dead 
before I was alive: though my grave be England, my dying 

J82 Sir Thomas Browne 

place was Paradise: and Eve miscarried of me before she con- 
ceiv'd of Cain. 

Insolent zeals, that do decry good Works and rely onely 
upon Faith, take not away merit: for, depending upon the 
efficacy of their Faith, they enforce the condition of GOD, and 
in a more sophistical way do seem to challenge Heaven. It 
was decreed by GOD, that only those that lapt in the water like 
Dogs, should have the honour to destroy the Midianites ; yet 
could none of those justly challenge, or imagine he deserved, 
that honour thereupon. I do not deny but that true Faith, and 
such as GOD requires, is not onely a mark or token, but also a 
means, of our Salvation; but where to find this, is as obscure 
to me as my last end. And if our Saviour could object unto 
His own Disciples and Favourites, a Faith, that, to the quan- 
tity of a grain of Mustard-seed, is able to remove Mountains; 
surely, that which we boast of, is not any thing, or at the most, 
but a remove from nothing. This is the Tenor of my belief; 
wherein though there be many things singular, and to the 
humour of my irregular self, yet, if they square not with ma- 
turer Judgements, I disclaim them, and do no further father 
them, than the learned and best judgements shall authorize 


Now for that other Virtue of Charity, without which Faith is 
a meer notion, and of no existence, I have ever endeavoured to 
nourish the merciful disposition and humane inclination I 
borrowed from my Parents, and regulate it to the written and 
prescribed Laws of Charity. And if I hold the true Anatomy of 
my self, I am delineated and naturally framed to such a piece 
of virtue; for I am of a constitution so general, that it consorts 
and sympathiseth with all things. I have no antipathy, or 
rather Idiosyncrasie, in dyet, humour, air, any thing. I wonder 
not at the French for their dishes of Frogs, Snails and Toad- 
stools, nor at the Jews for Locusts and Grasshoppers; but 
being amongst them, make them my common Viands, and I 
find they agree with my Stomach as well as theirs. I could 
digest a Salad gathered in a Church-yard, as well as in a 
Garden. I cannot start at the presence of a Serpent, Scorpion, 
Lizard, or Salamander: at the sight of a Toad or Viper, I find 
in me no desire to take up a stone to destroy them. I feel not 
in my self those common Antipathies that I can discover in 
others: those National repugnances do not touch me, nor do 
I behold with prejudice the French, Italian, Spaniard, or 
Dutch: but where I find their actions in balance with my 
Countrymen's, I honour, love, and embrace them in the same 
degree. I was born in the eighth Climate, but seem for to be 
framed and constellated unto all. I am no Plant that will not 
prosper out of a Garden. All places, all airs, make unto me 
one Countrey; I am in England every where, and under any 
Meridian. I have been shipwrackt, yet am not enemy with the 
Sea or Winds; I can study, play, or sleep in a Tempest. In 
brief, I am averse from nothing: my Conscience would give 
me the lye if I should say I absolutely detest or hate any 
essence but the Devil ; or so at least abhor any thing, but that 
we might come to composition. If there be any among those 


384 Sir Thomas Browne 

common objects of hatred I do contemn and laugh at, it is that 
great enemy of Reason, Virtue and Religion, the Multitude: 
that numerous piece of monstrosity, which, taken asunder, 
seem men, and the reasonable creatures of GOD; but, confused 
together, make but one great beast, and a monstrosity more 
prodigious than Hydra. It is no breach of Charity to call these 
Fools; it is the style all holy Writers have afforded them, set 
down by Solomon in Canonical Scripture, and a point of our 
Faith to believe so. Neither in the name of Multitude do I 
onely include the base and minor sort of people; there is a 
rabble even amongst the Gentry, a sort of Plebeian heads, 
whose fancy moves with the same wheel as these; men in the 
same Level with Mechanicks, though their fortunes do some- 
what guild their infirmities, and their purses compound for 
their follies. But as, in casting account, three or four men 
together come short in account of one man placed by himself 
below them; so neither are a troop of these ignorant Doradoes 
of that true esteem and value, as many a forlorn person, whose 
condition doth place him below their feet. Let us speak like 
Politicians: there is a Nobility without Heraldry, a natural 
dignity, whereby one man is ranked with another, another filed 
before him, according to the quality of his Desert, and pre- 
heminence of his good parts. Though the corruption of these 
times and the byas of present practice wheel another way, thus 
it was in the first and primitive Commonwealths, and is yet in 
the integrity and Cradle of well-order'd Polities, till corrup- 
tion getteth ground; ruder desires labouring after that which 
wiser considerations contemn, every one having a liberty to 
amass and heap up riches, and they a licence or faculty to do 
or purchase any thing. 

This general and indifferent temper of mine doth more neer- 
ly dispose me to this noble virtue. It is a happiness to be born 
and framed unto virtue, and to grow up from the seeds of 
nature, rather than the inoculation and forced graffs of educa- 
tion: yet if we are directed only by our particular Natures, and 
regulate our inclinations by no higher rule than that of our 
reasons, we are but Moralists; Divinity will still call us 

Religio Medici 385 

Heathens. Therefore this great work of charity must have 
other motives, ends, and impulsions. I give no alms only to 
satisfie the hunger of my Brother, but to fulfil and accom- 
plish the Will and Command of my GOD: I draw not my purse 
for his sake that demands it, but His That enjoyned it: I re- 
lieve no man upon the Rhetorick of his miseries, hor to content 
mine own commiserating disposition ; for this is still but moral 
charity, and an act that oweth more to passion than reason. 
He that relieves another upon the bare suggestion and bowels 
of pity, doth not this, so much for his sake as for his own; for 
by compassion we make others misery our own, and so, by 
relieving them, we relieve our selves also. It is as erroneous a 
conceit to redress other Mens misfortunes upon the common 
considerations of merciful natures, that it may be one day 
our own case; for this is a sinister and politick kind of charity, 
whereby we seem to bespeak the pities of men in the like 
occasions. And truly I have observed that those professed 
Eleemosynaries, though in a croud or multitude, do yet di- 
rect and place their petitions on a few and selected persons: 
there is surely a Physiognomy, which those experienced and 
Master Mendicants observe, whereby they instantly discover 
a merciful aspect, and will single out a face wherein they spy 
the signatures and marks of Mercy. For there are mysti- 
cally in our faces certain Characters which carry in them the 
motto of our Souls, wherein he that cannot read A. B. C. may 
read our natures. I hold moreover that there is a Phytognomy, 
or Physiognomy, not only of Men, but of Plants and Veg- 
etables; and in every one of them some outward figures which 
hang as signs or bushes of their inward forms. The Finger of 
GOD hath left an Inscription upon all His works, not graphical 
or composed of Letters, but of their several forms, constitu- 
tions, parts, and operations, which, aptly joyned together, 
do make one word that doth express their natures. By these 
Letters GOD calls the Stars by their names; and by this Alpha- 
bet Adam assigned to every creature a name peculiar to its 
Nature. Now there are, besides these Characters in our Faces, 
certain mystical figures in our Hands, which I dare not call 

386 Sir Thomas Browne 

meer dashes, strokes d la voUe, or at random, because deline- 
ated by a Pencil that never works in vain; and hereof I take 
more particular notice, because I carry that in mine own 
hand which I could never read of nor discover in another. 
Aristotle, I confess, in his acute and singular Book of Physiog- 
nomy, hath made no mention of Chiromancy; yet I believe 
the Egyptians, who were neerer addicted to those abstruse 
and mystical sciences, had a knowledge therein, to which 
those vagabond and counterfeit Egyptians did after pretend, 
and perhaps retained a few corrupted principles, which some- 
times might verifie their prognosticks. 

It is the common wonder of all men, how among* so many 
millions of faces, there should be none alike: now contrary, 
I wonder as much how there should be any. He that shall 
consider how many thousand several words have been care- 
lesly and without study composed out of twenty-four Letters; 
withal, how many hundred lines there are to be drawn in the 
Fabrick of one Man, shall easily find that this variety is neces- 
sary; and it will be very hard that they shall so concur as to 
make one portract like another. Let a Painter carelessly limb 
out a million of Faces, and you shall find them all different; 
yea, let him have his Copy before him, yet after all his art 
there will remain a sensible distinction; for the pattern or 
example of every thing is the perfectest in that kind, whereof 
we still come short, though we transcend or go beyond it, 
because herein it is wide, and agrees not in all points unto 
the copy. Nor doth the similitude of Creatures disparage the 
variety of Nature, nor any way confound the Works of GOD. 
For even in things alike there is diversity; and those that do 
seem to accord do manifestly disagree. And thus is man like 
GOD; for in the same things that we resemble Him, we are 
utterly different from Him. There was never anything so like 
another as in all points to concur: there will ever some re- 
served difference slip in, to prevent the identity; without 
which, two several things would not be alike, but the same, 
which is impossible. 

But to return from Philosophy to Charity: I hold not so 

Religio Medici 387 

narrow a conceit of this virtue, as to conceive that to give 
Alms is onely to be Charitable, or think a piece of Liberality 
can comprehend the Total of Charity. Divinity hath wisely 
divided the act thereof into many branches, and hath taught 
us in this narrow way many paths unto goodness; as many 
ways as we may do good, so many ways we may be charitable. 
There are infirmities not onely of Body, but of Soul, and For- 
tunes, which do require the merciful hand of our abilities. 
I cannot contemn a man for ignorance, but behold him with 
as much pity as I do Lazarus. It is no greater Charity to cloath 
his body, than apparel the nakedness of his Soul. It is an 
honourable object to see the reasons of other men wear our 
Liveries, and their borrowed understandings do homage to 
the bounty of ours: it is the cheapest way of beneficence, 
and, like the natural charity of the Sun, illuminates another 
without obscuring itself. To be reserved and caitiff in this 
part of goodness, is the sordidest piece of covetousness, and 
more contemptible than pecuniary Avarice. To this (as call- 
ing my self a Scholar), I am obliged by the duty of my con- 
dition: I make not therefore my head a grave, but a treasure, 
of knowledge; I intend no Monopoly, but a community, in 
learning; I study not for my own sake only, but for theirs 
that study not for themselves. I envy no man that knows 
more than my self, but pity them that know less. I instruct 
no man as an exercise of my knowledge, or with an intent 
rather to nourish and keep it alive in mine own head then 
beget and propagate it in his: and in the midst of all my 
endeavours there is but one thought that dejects me, that my 
acquired parts must perish with my self, nor can be Legacied 
among my honoured Friends. I cannot fall out or contemn 
a man for an errour, or conceive why a difference in Opinion 
should divide an affection; for Controversies, Disputes, and 
Argumentations, both in Philosophy and in Divinity, if they 
meet with discreet and peaceable natures, do not infringe the 
Laws of Charity. In all disputes, so much as there is of pas- 
sion, so much as there is of nothing to the purpose; for then 
Reason, like a bad Hound, spends upon a false Scent, and 

388 Sir Thomas Browne 

forsakes the question first started. And this is one reason why 
Controversies are never determined; for, though they be 
amply proposed, they are scarce at all handled, they do so 
swell with unnecessary Digressions; and the Parenthesis on 
the party is often as large as the main discourse upon the sub- 
ject. The Foundations of Religion are already established, 
and the Principles of Salvation subscribed unto by all: there 
remains not many controversies worth a Passion; and yet 
never any disputed without, not only in Divinity, but in in- 
feriour Arts. What a ftarpaxofivofiaxia and hot skirmish is 
betwixt S. and T. in LucianI How do Grammarians hack and 
slash for the Genitive case in Jupiter! How do they break 
their own pates to salve that of Priscian! 

Si joret in terris, rideret Democritus. 

Yea, even amongst wiser militants, how many wounds have 
been given, and credits slain, for the poor victory of an 
opinion, or beggarly conquest of a distinction 1 Scholars are 
men of Peace, they bear no Arms, but their tongues are 
sharper than Actius his razor; their Pens carry farther, and 
give a louder report than Thunder: I had rather stand the 
shock of a Basilisco, than the fury of a merciless Pen. It is 
not meer Zeal to Learning, or Devotion to the Muses, that 
wiser Princes Patron the Arts, and carry an indulgent aspect 
unto Scholars; but a desire to have their names eternized by 
the memory of their writings, and a fear of the revengeful 
Pen of succeeding ages; for these are the men, that, when 
they have played their parts, and had their exits, must step 
out and give the moral of their Scenes, and deliver unto Pos- 
terity an Inventory of their Virtues and Vices. And surely 
there goes a great deal of Conscience to the compiling of an 
History: there is no reproach to the scandal of a Story; it is 
such an authentick kind of falshood that with authority belies 
our good names to all Nations and Posterity. 

There is another offence unto Charity, which no Author 
hath ever written of, and few take notice of; and that's the 
reproach, not of whole professions, mysteries, and conditions, 

Religio Medici 389 

but of whole Nations, wherein by opprobious Epithets we 
miscall each other, and by an uncharitable Logick, from a 
disposition in a few, conclude a habit in all. 

Le mutin Anglois, et le bravache Escossois, 

Et le fol Francois, 

Le poultron Remain, le larron de Gascongne, 
L'Espagnol superbe, et VAleman yvrongne. 

St. Paul, that calls the Cretion lyars, doth it but indirectly, 
and upon quotation of their own Poet. It is as bloody a thought 
in one way, as Nero's was in another; for by a word we wound 
a thousand, and at one blow assassine the honour of a Nation. 
It is as compleat a piece of madness to miscal and rave against 
the times, or think to recal men to reason by a fit of passion. 
Democritus, that thought to laugh the times into goodness, 
seems to me as deeply Hypochondriack as Heraclitus, that 
bewailed them. It moves not my spleen to behold the multitude 
in their proper humours, that is, in their fits of folly and 
madness; as well understanding that wisdom is not prophan'd 
unto the World, and 'tis the priviledge of a few to be Virtuous. 
They that endeavour to abolish Vice, destroy also Virtue; for 
contraries, though they destroy one another, are yet the life 
of one another. Thus Virtue (abolish vice), is an Idea. Again, 
the community of sin doth not disparage goodness; for when 
Vice gains upon the major part, Virtue, in whom it remains, 
becomes more excellent; and being lost in some, multiplies 
its goodness in others which remain untouched and persist 
in tire in the general inundation. I can therefore behold Vice 
without a Satyr, content only with an admonition, or instruc- 
tive reprehension; for Noble Natures, and such as are capable 
of goodness, are railed into vice, that might as easily be ad- 
monished into virtue; and we should all be so far the Orators 
of goodness, as to protect her from the power of Vice, and 
maintain the cause of injured truth. No man can justly cen- 
sure or condemn another, because indeed no man truly knows 
another. This I perceive in my self; for I am in the dark to 
all the world, and my nearest friends behold me but in a 

390 Sir Thomas Browne 

cloud. Those that know me but superficially, think less of 
me than I do of myself; those of my neer acquaintance think 
more; GOD, Who truly knows me, knows that I am nothing; 
lor He only beholds me and all the world, Who looks not on 
us through a derived ray, or a trajection of a sensible species, 
but beholds the substance without the helps of accidents, and 
the forms of things as we their operations. Further, no man 
can judge another, because no man knows himself: for we 
censure others but as they disagree from that humour which 
we fancy laudable in our selves, and commend others but for 
that wherein they seem to quadrate and consent with us. So 
that, in conclusion, all is but that we all condemn, Self-love. 
Tis the general complaint of these times, and perhaps of 
those past, that charity grows cold; which I perceive most 
verified in those which most do manifest the fires and flames 
of zeal; for it is a virtue that best agrees with coldest natures, 
*nd such as are complexioned for humility. But how shall we 
expect Charity towards others, when we are uncharitable to 
our selves? Charity begins at home, is the voice of the World; 
yet is every man his greatest enemy, and, as it were, his own 
Executioner. Non occides, is the Commandment of GOD, yet 
scarce observed by any man; for I perceive every man is his 
own Atropos y and lends a hand to cut the thred of his own days. 
Cain was not therefore the first Murtherer, but Adam, who 
brought in death; whereof he beheld the practice and example 
in his own son Abel, and saw that verified in the experience 
of another, which faith could not perswade him in the Theory 
of himself. 

There is, I think, no man that apprehends his own miseries 
less than my self, and no man that so neerly apprehends an- 
others. I could lose an arm without a tear, and with few 
groans, methinks, be quartered into pieces; yet can I weep 
most seriously at a Play, and receive with true passion the 
counterfeit grief of those known and professed Impostures. 
It is a barbarous part of inhumanity to add unto any afflicted 
parties misery, or indeavour to multiply in any man a passion 
whose single nature is already above his patience. This was 

Religio Medki 391 

the greatest affliction of Job, and those oblique expostulations 
of his Friends a deeper injury than the down-right blows of 
the Devil. It is not the tears of our own eyes only, but of our 
friends also, that do exhaust the current of our sorrows ; which, 
falling into many streams, runs more peaceably, and is con- 
tented with a narrower channel. It is an act within the power 
of charity, to translate a passion out of one breast into another, 
and to divide a sorrow almost out of it self; for an affliction, 
like a dimension, may be so divided, as, if not indivisible, at 
least to become insensible. Now with my friend I desire not to 
share or participate, but to engross, his sorrows; that, by 
making them mine own, I may more easily discuss them; for 
in mine own reason, and within my self, I can command that 
which I cannot intreat without my self, and within the circle 
of another. I have often thought those noble pairs and ex- 
amples of friendship not so truly Histories of what had been, 
as fictions of what should be; but I now perceive nothing 
in them but possibilities, nor any thing in the Heroick exam- 
ples of Damon and Pythias, Achilles and Patroclus, which 
methinks upon some grounds I could not perform within the 
narrow compass of my self. That a man should lay down his 
life for his Friend, seems strange to vulgar affections, and 
such as confine themselves within that Worldly principle, 
Charity begins at home. For mine own part I could never re- 
member the relations that I held unto my self, nor the respect 
that I owe unto my own nature, in the cause of GOD, my 
Country, and my Friends. Next to these three, I do embrace 
my self. I confess I do not observe that order that the Schools 
ordain our affections, to love our Parents, Wives, Children, 
and then our Friends; for, excepting the injunctions of Reli- 
gion, I do not find in my self such a necessary and indissoluble 
Sympathy to all those of my blood. I hope I do not break the 
fifth Commandment, if I conceive I may love my friend before 
the nearest of my blood, even those to whom I owe the prin- 
ciples of life. I never yet cast a true affection on a woman; 
but I have loved my friend as I do virtue, my soul, my Goix 
From hence me thinks I do conceive how GOD loves man, what 

39* Sir Thomas Browne 

happiness there is in the love of GOD. Omitting all other, there 
are three most mystical unions: i. two natures in one person; 
2. three persons in one nature; 3. one soul in two bodies; for 
though indeed they be really divided, yet are they so united, 
as they seem but one, and make rather a duality than two 
distinct souls. 

There are wonders in true affection : it is a body of Enigma's, 
mysteries, and riddles; wherein two so become one, as they 
both become two. I love my friend before my self, and yet 
methinks I do not love him enough: some few months hence 
my multiplied affection will make me believe I have not loved 
him at all. When I am from him, I am dead till I be with him; 
when I am with him, I am not satisfied, but would still be 
nearer him. United souls are not satisfied with imbraces, but 
desire to be truly each other; which being impossible, their 
desires are infinite, and must proceed without a possibility 
of satisfaction. Another misery there is in affection, that 
whom we truly love like our own selves, we forget their looks, 
nor can our memory retain the Idea of their faces; and it is 
no wonder, for they are our selves, and our affection makes 
their looks our own. This noble affection falls not on vulgar 
and common constitutions, but on such as are mark'd for 
virtue: he that can love his friend with this noble ardour, 
will in a competent degree affect all. Now, if we can bring 
our affections to look beyond the body, and Cast an eye upon 
the soul, we have found out the true object, not only of friend- 
ship, but Charity; and the greatest happiness that we can 
bequeath the soul, is that wherein we all do place our last 
felicity, Salvation; which though it be not in our power to 
bestow, it is in our charity and pious invocations to desire, if 
not procure and further. I cannot contentedly frame a prayer 
for my self in particular, without a catalogue for my friends; 
nor request a happiness, wherein my sociable disposition doth 
not desire the fellowship of my neighbour. I never hear the 
Toll of a passing Bell, though in my mirth, without my prayers 
and best wishes for the departing spirit; I cannot go to cure 
the body of my patient, but I forget my profession, and call 

Religio Medici 393 

unto GOD for his soul; I cannot see one say his prayers, but, 
in stead of imitating him, I fall into a supplication for him, 
who perhaps is no more to me than a common nature: and if 
GOD hath vouchsafed an ear to my supplications, there are 
surely many happy that never saw me, and enjoy the blessing 
of mine unknown devotions. To pray for Enemies, that is, 
for their salvation, is no harsh precept, but the practice of 
our daily and ordinary devotions. I cannot believe the story 
of the Italian: our bad wishes and uncharitable desires pro- 
ceed no further than this life; it is the Devil, and the un- 
charitable votes of Hell, that desire our misery in the World 
to come. 

To do no injury, nor take none, was a principle, which to 
my former years and impatient affections seemed to contain 
enough of Morality; but my more setled years and Christian 
constitution have fallen upon severer resolutions. I can hold 
there is no such thing as injury; that, if there be, there is 
no such injury as revenge, and no such revenge as the con- 
tempt of an injury; that to hate another, is to malign him- 
self; that the truest way to love another, is to despise our 
selves. I were unjust unto mine own Conscience, if I should 
say I am at variance with any thing like my self. I find there 
are many pieces in this one f abrick of man ; this frame is raised 
upon a mass of Antipathies. I am one methinks, but as the 
World ; wherein notwithstanding there are a swarm of distinct 
essences, and in them another World of contrarieties; we 
carry private and domestick enemies within, publick and 
more hostile adversaries without. The Devil, that did but 
buffet St. Paul, plays methinks at sharp with me. Let me be 
nothing, if within the compass of my self I do not find the 
battail of Lepanto, Passion against Reason, Reason against 
Faith, Faith against the Devil, and my Conscience against 
all. There is another man within me, that's angry with me, 
rebukes, commands, and dastards me. I have no Conscience 
of Marble to resist the hammer of more heavy offences; nor 
yet so soft and waxen, as to take the impression of each single 
peccadillo or scrape of infirmity. I am of a strange belief, 

394 Sir Thomas Browne 

that it is as easie to be forgiven some sins, as to commit some 
others. For my Original sin, I hold it to be washed away in 
my Baptism: for my actual transgressions, I compute and 
reckon with GOD but from my last repentance, Sacrament, or 
general absolution; and therefore am not terrified with the 
sins or madness of my youth. I thank the goodness of GOD, 
I have no sins that want a name; I am not singular in of- 
fences; my transgressions are Epidemical, and from the com- 
mon breath of our corruption. For there are certain tempers 
of body, which, matcht with an humorous depravity of mind, 
do hatch and produce vitiosities, whose newness and mon- 
strosity of nature admits no name: this was the temper of 
that Lecher that fell in love with a Statua, and the constitu- 
tion of Nero in his Spintrian recreations. For the Heavens 
are not only fruitful in new and unheard-of stars, the Earth 
in plants and animals, but mens minds also in villainy and 
vices. Now the dulness of my reason, and the vulgarity of my 
disposition, never prompted my invention, nor solicited my 
affection unto any of these; yet even those common and 
quotidian infirmities that so necessarily attend me, and do 
seem to be my very nature, have so dejected me, so broken 
the estimation that I should have otherwise of my self, that 
I repute my self the most abjectest piece of mortality. Divines 
prescribe a fit of sorrow to repentance: there goes indignation, 
anger, sorrow, hatred, into mine; passions of a contrary na- 
ture, which neither seem to sute with this action, nor my 
proper constitution. It is no breach of charity to our selves, 
to be at variance with our Vices, nor to abhor that part of us 
which is an enemy to the ground of charity, our GOD; wherein 
we do but imitate our great selves, the world, whose divided 
Antipathies and contrary faces do yet carry a charitable re- 
gard unto the whole, by their particular discords preserving 
the common harmony, and keeping in fetters those powers, 
whose rebellions, once Masters, might be the ruine of all. 

I thank GOD, amongst those millions of Vices I do inherit 
and hold from Adam, I have escaped one, and that a mortal 
enemy to Charity, the first and father-sin, not onely of man, 

Religio Medici 395 

but of the devil, Pride: a vice whose name is comprehended 
in a Monosyllable, but in its nature not circumscribed with 
a World. I have escaped it in a condition that can hardly 
avoid it. Those petty acquisitions and reputed perfections 
that advance and elevate the conceits of other men, add no 
feathers unto mine. I have seen a Grammarian towr and plume 
himself over a single line in Horace, and shew more pride in 
the construction of one Ode, than the Author in the com- 
posure of the whole book. For my own part, besides the Jargon 
and Patois of several Provinces, I understand no less than six 
Languages; yet I protest I have no higher conceit of my self, 
than had our Fathers before the confusion of Babel, when 
there was but one Language in the World, and none to boast 
himself either Linguist or Critick. I have not onely seen several 
Countries, beheld the nature of their Climes, the Chorogra- 
phy of their Provinces, Topography of their Cities, but under- 
stood their several Laws, Customs, and Policies; yet cannot 
all this perswade the dulness of my spirit unto such an opinion 
of my self, as I behold in nimbler and conceited heads, that 
never looked a degree beyond their Nests. I know the names, 
and somewhat more, of all the constellations in my Horizon; 
yet I have seen a prating Mariner, that could onely name the 
pointers and the North Star, out-talk me, and conceit himself 
a whole Sphere above me. I know most of the Plants of my 
Countrey, and of those about me; yet methinks I do not know 
so many as when I did but know a hundred, and had scarcely 
ever Simpled further than Cheapside. For, indeed, heads of 
capacity, and such as are not full with a handful or easie 
measure of knowledge, think they know nothing till they know 
all; which being impossible, they fall upon the opinion of 
Socrates, and only know they know not any thing. I cannot 
think that Homer pin'd away upon the riddle of the fishermen; 
or that Aristotle, who understood the uncertainty of knowl- 
edge, and confessed so often the reason of man too weak for 
the works of nature, did ever drown himself upon the flux 
and reflux of Euripus. We do but learn to-day what our better 
advanced judgements will unteach to morrow; and Aristotle 

396 Sir Thomas Browne 

doth but instruct us, as Plato did him; that is, to confute 
himself. I have run through all sorts, yet find no rest in any: 
though our first studies and junior endeavours may style us 
Peripateticks, Stoicks, or Academicks; yet I perceive the 
wisest heads prove, at last, almost all Scepticks, and stand 
like Janus in the field of knowledge. I have therefore one 
common and authentick Philosophy I learned in the Schools, 
whereby I discourse and satisfy the reason of other men; an- 
other more reserved, and drawn from experience, whereby I 
content mine own. Solomon, that complained of ignorance 
in the height of knowledge, hath not only humbled my con- 
ceits, but discouraged my endeavours. There is yet another 
conceit that hath sometimes made me shut my books, which 
tells me it is a vanity to waste our days in the blind pursuit 
of knowledge; it is but attending a little longer, and we shall 
enjoy that by instinct and infusion, which we endeavour at 
here by labour and inquisition. It is better to sit down in a 
modest ignorance, and rest contented with the natural bless- 
ing of our own reasons, than buy the uncertain knowledge of 
this life with sweat and vexation, which Death gives every 
fool gratis, and is an accessary of our glorification. 

I was never yet once, and commend their resolutions who 
never marry twice: not that I disallow of second marriage; 
as neither, in all cases, of Polygamy, which, considering some 
times, and the unequal number of both sexes, may be also 
necessary. The whole World was made for man, but the 
twelfth part of man for woman: Man is the whole World, and 
the Breath of GOD; Woman the Rib and crooked piece of 
man. I could be content that we might procreate like trees, 
without conjunction, or that there were any way to perpetuate 
the World without this trivial and vulgar way of union: it 
is the foolishest act a wise man commits in all his life; nor is 
there any thing that will more deject his cooPd imagination, 
when he shall consider what an odd and unworthy piece of 
foDy he hath committed. I speak not in prejudice, nor am 
averse from that sweet Sex, but naturally amorous of all that 
is beautiful. I can look a whole day with delight upon a hand- 

Religio Medici 397 

some Picture, though it be but of an Horse. It is my temper 
and I like it the better, to affect all harmony; and sure there 
is musick even in the beauty, and the silent note which Cupid 
strikes, far sweeter than the sound of an instrument. For there 
is a musick where ever there is a harmony, order, or propor- 
tion: and thus far we may maintain the music of the Sphears; 
for those well-ordered motions, and regular paces, though 
they give no sound unto the ear, yet to the understanding 
they strike a note most full of harmony. Whosoever is har- 
monically composed delights in harmony; which makes me 
much distrust the symmetry of those heads which declaim 
against all Church-Musick. For my self, not only from my 
obedience, but my particular Genius, I do embrace it: for 
even that vulgar and Tavern-Musick, which makes one man 
merry, another mad, strikes in me a deep fit of devotion, and 
a profound contemplation of the First Composer. There is 
something in it of Divinity more than the ear discovers: it is 
an Hieroglyphical and shadowed lesson of the whole World, 
and creatures of GOD; such a melody to the ear, as the whole 
World, well understood, would afford the understanding. In 
brief, it is a sensible fit of that harmony which intellectually 
sounds in the ears of GOD. I will not say, with Plato, the soul 
is an harmony, but harmonical, and hath its nearest sympathy 
unto Musick: thus some, whose temper of body agrees, and 
humours the constitution of their souls, are born Poets, though 
indeed all are naturally inclined unto Rhythme. This made 
Tacitus, in the very first line of his Story, fall upon a verse; 
and Cicero, the worst of Poets, but declaiming for a Poet, falls 
in the very first sentence upon a perfect Hexameter. I feel 
not in me those sordid and unchristian desires of my profes- 
sion; I do not secretly implore and wish for Plagues, rejoyce 
at Famines, revolve Ephemerides and Almanacks in expecta- 
tion of malignant Aspects, fatal Conjunctions, and Eclipses. 
I rejoyce not at unwholesome Springs, nor unseasonable Win- 
ters: my Prayer goes with the Husbandman's; I desire every 
thing in its proper season, that neither men nor the times be 
put out of temper. Let me be sick my self, if sometimes the 

398 Sir Thomas Browne 

malady of my patient be not a disease unto me. I desire rather 
to cure his infirmities than my own necessities. Where I do 
him no good, methinks it is scarce honest gain; though I con- 
fess 'tis but the worthy salary of our well-intended endeavours. 
I am not only ashamed, but heartily sorry, that, besides death, 
there are diseases incurable: yet not for my own sake, or 
that they be beyond my Art, but for the general cause and 
sake of humanity, whose common cause I apprehend as mine 
own. And to speak more generally, those three Noble Pro- 
fessions which all civil Commonwealths do honour, are raised 
upon the fall of Adam, and are not any way exempt from their 
infirmities; there are not only diseases incurable in Physick, 
but cases indissolvable in Laws, Vices incorrigible in Divinity. 
If General Councils may err, I do not see why particular 
Courts should be infallible: their perfectest rules are raised 
upon the erroneous reasons of Man, and the Laws of one do 
but condemn the rules of another; as Aristotle oft-times the 
opinions of his Predecessours, because, though agreeable to 
reason, yet were not consonant to his own rules, and the 
Logick of his proper Principles. Again, (to speak nothing of 
the Sin against the HOLY GHOST, whose cure not onely, but 
whose nature is unknown), I can cure the Gout or Stone in 
some, sooner than Divinity, Pride, or Avarice in others. I can 
cure Vices by Physick when they remain incurable by Di- 
vinity, and shall obey my Pills when they contemn their 
precepts. I boast nothing, but plainly say, we all labour against 
our own cure; for death is the cure of all diseases. There is 
no Catholicon or universal remedy I know, but this; which, 
though nauseous to queasie stomachs, yet to prepared appe- 
tites is. Nectar, and a pleasant potion of immortality. 

For my Conversation, it is like the Sun's, with all men, and 
with a friendly aspect to good and bad. Methinks there is no 
man bad, and the worst, best; that is, while they are kept 
within the circle of those qualities wherein they are good: 
there is no man's mind of such discordant and jarring a tem- 
per, to which a tunable disposition may not strike a harmony. 
Magnx virtutts, nee minor a vitia; it is the posie of the best 

Religio Medici 399 

natures, and may be inverted on the worst; there are in the 
most depraved and venomous dispositions, certain pieces that 
remain untoucht, which by an Antiperistasis become more 
excellent, or by the excellency of their antipathies are able 
to preserve themselves from the contagion of their enemy vices, 
and persist intire beyond the general corruption. For it is also 
thus in nature: the greatest Balsomes do lie enveloped in the 
bodies of most powerful Corrosives. I say, moreover, and I 
ground upon experience, that poisons contain within them- 
selves their own Antidote, and that which preserves them 
from the venome of themselves, without which they were not 
deleterious to others onely, but to themselves also. But it is 
the corruption that I fear within me, not the contagion of 
commerce without me. 'Tis that unruly regiment within me, 
that will destroy me; 'tis I that do infect my self; the man 
without a Navel yet lives in me; I feel that original canker 
and corrode and devour me; and therefore Dejenda me Dios 
de me, "LORD deliver me from my self," is a part of my Letany, 
and the first voice of my retired imaginations. There is no 
man alone, because every man is a Microcosm, and carries 
the whole World about him. Nunquam minus solus quam cum 
solus, though it be the Apothegme of a wise man, is yet true 
in the mouth of a fool. Indeed, though in a Wilderness, a man 
is never alone, not only because he is with himself and his 
own thoughts, but because he is with the Devil, who ever con- 
sorts with our solitude, and is that unruly rebel that musters 
up those disordered motions which accompany our sequestred 
imaginations. And to speak more narrowly, there is no such 
thing as solitude, nor any thing that can be said to be alone 
and by itself, but GOD, Who is His own circle, and can subsist 
by Himself; all others, besides their dissimilary and Heter- 
ogeneous parts, which in a manner multiply their natures, 
cannot subsist without the concourse of GOD, and the society 
of that hand which doth uphold their natures. In brief, there 
can be nothing truly alone and by it self, which is not truly 
one; and such is only GOD: all others do transcend an imity, 
and so by consequence are many. 

4oc Sir Thomas Browne 

Now for my life, it is a miracle of thirty years, which to 
relate, were not a History, but a piece of Poetry, and would 
sound to common ears like a Fable. For the World, I count 
it not an Inn, but an Hospital; and a place not to live, but to 
dye in. The world that I regard is my self; it is the Microcosm 
of my own frame that I cast mine eye on; for the other, I use 
it but like my Globe, and turn it round sometimes for my 
recreation. Men that look upon my outside, perusing only 
my condition and Fortunes, do err in my Altitude; for I am 
above Atlas his shoulders. The earth is a point not only in 
respect of the Heavens above us, but of that heavenly and 
celestial part within us; that mass of Flesh that circumscribes 
me, limits not my mind: that surface that tells the Heavens 
it hath an end, cannot persuade me I have any: I take my 
circle to be above three hundred and sixty; though the num- 
ber of the Ark do measure my body, it comprehendeth not 
my mind: whilst I study to find how I am a Microcosm, or 
little World, I find my self something more than the great. 
There is surely a piece of Divinity in us, something that was 
before the Elements, and owes no homage unto the Sun. 
Nature tells me I am the Image of GOD, as well as Scripture: 
he that understands not thus much, hath not his introduction 
or first lesson, and is yet to begin the Alphabet of man. Let 
me not injure the felicity of others, if I say I am as happy 
as any: Ruat cc&lum, fiat voluntas Tua, salveth all; so that 
whatsoever happens, it is but what our daily prayers desire. 
In brief, I am content; and what should Providence add more? 
Surely this is it we call Happiness, and this do I enjoy; with 
this I am happy in a dream, and as content to enjoy a happi- 
ness in a fancy, as others in a more apparent truth and realty. 
There is surely a neerer apprehension of any thing that de- 
lights us in our dreams, than in our waked senses: without 
this I were unhappy; for my awaked judgment discontents 
me, ever whispering unto me, that I am from my friend; but 
my friendly dreams in the night requite me, and make me 
think I am'within his arms. I thank GOD for my happy dreams, 
as I do for my good rest; for there is a satisfaction in them 

Religio Medici 401 

unto reasonable desires, and such as can be content with a 
fit of happiness: and surely it is not a melancholy conceit to 
think we are all asleep in this World, and that the conceits 
of this life are as meer dreams to those of the next; as the 
Phantasms of the night, to the conceits of the day. There is 
an equal delusion in both, and the one doth but seem to be 
the embleme or picture of the other: we are somewhat more 
than our selves in our sleeps, and the slumber of the body 
seems to be but the waking of the soul. It is the ligation of 
sense, but the liberty of reason; and our waking conceptions 
do not match the Fancies of our sleeps. At my Nativity my 
Ascendant was the watery sign of Scorpius; I was born in 
the Planetary hour of Saturn, and I think I have a piece of 
that Leaden Planet in me. I am no way facetious, nor disposed 
for the mirth and galliardize of company; yet in one dream 
I can compose a whole Comedy, behold the action, apprehend 
the jests, and laugh my self awake at the conceits thereof. 
Were my memory as faithful as my reason is then fruitful, 
I would never study but in my dreams; and this time also 
would I chuse for my devotions: but our grosser memories 
have then so little hold of our abstracted understandings, that 
they forget the story, and can not relate to our awaked souls, 
a confused and broken tale of that that hath passed. Aristotle, 
who hath written a singular Tract 0} Sleep, hath not, me- 
thinks, throughly defined it; nor yet Galen, though he seem 
to have corrected it; for those Noctambuloes and night- 
walkers, though in their sleep, do yet injoy the action of their 
senses. We must therefore say that there is something in us 
that is not in the jurisdiction of Morpheus; and that those 
abstracted and ecstatick souls do walk about in their own 
corps, as spirits with the bodies they assume, wherein they 
seem to hear, see, and feel, though indeed the Organs are 
destitute of sense, and their natures of those faculties that 
should inform them. Thus it is observed, that men sometimes, 
upon the hour of their departure, do speak and reason above 
themselves; for then the soul, beginning to be freed from the 

402 Sir Thomas Browne 

ligaments of the body, begins to reason like her self, and to 
discourse in a strain above mortality. 

We term sleep a death; and yet it is waking that kills us, 
and destroys those spirits that are the house of life. 'Tis in- 
deed a part of life that best expresseth death; for every man 
truely lives, so long as he acts his nature, or some way makes 
good the faculties of himself. Themistocles, therefore, that 
slew his Soldier in his sleep, was a merciful Executioner: 'tis 
a kind of punishment the mildness of no laws hath invented: 
I wonder the fancy of Lucan and Seneca did not discover it. It 
is that death by which we may be literally said to dye daily; 
a death which Adam dyed before his mortality; a death 
whereby we live a middle and moderating point between life 
and death: in fine, so like death, I dare not trust it without 
my prayers, and an half adieu unto the World, and take my 
farewel in a Colloquy with GOD. 

The night is come, like to the day, 
Depart not Thou, great GOD, away. 
Let not my sins, black as the night, 
Eclipse the lustre of Thy light: 
Keep still in my Horizon; for to me 
The Sun makes not the day, but Thee. 
Thou, Whose nature cannot sleep, 
On my temples Gentry keep; 
Guard me 'gainst those watchful foes, 
Whose eyes are open while mine dose. 
Let no dreams my head infest, 
But such as Jacob's temples blest. 
While I do rest, my Soul advance; 
Make my sleep a holy trance; 
That I may, my rest being wrought, 
Awake into some holy thought; 
And with as active vigour run 
My course, as doth the nimble Sun. 
Sleep is a death; O make me try, 
By sleeping, what it is to die; 

Religio Medki 403 

And as gently lay my head 
On my grave, as now my bed. 
Howere I rest, great GOD, let me 
Awake again at last with Thee; 
And thus assur'd, behold I lie 
Securely, or to awake or die. 
These are my drowsie days; in vain 
I do now wake to sleep again: 
O come that hour, when I shall never 
Sleep again, but wake for ever. 

This is the Dormative I take to bedward; I need no other 
Laudanum than this to make me sleep; after which I close 
mine eyes in security, content to take my leave of the Sun, and 
sleep unto the Resurrection. 

The method I should use in distributive Justice, I often 
observe in commutative; and keep a Geometrical propor- 
tion in both, whereby becoming equable to others, I become 
unjust to my self, and supererogate in that common principle, 
Do unto others as thou wouldst be done unto thy self. I was 
not born unto riches, neither is it, I think, my Star to be 
wealthy; or, if it were, the freedom of my mind, and frank- 
ness of my disposition, were able to contradict and cross my 
fates: for to me, avarice seems not so much a vice, as a deplor- 
able piece of madness; to conceive ourselves pipkins, or be 
perswaded that we are dead, is not so ridiculous, nor so many 
degrees beyond the power of Hellebore, as this. The opinions 
of Theory, and positions of men, are not so void of reason as 
their practised conclusions. Some have held that Snow is 
black, that the earth moves, that the Soul is air, fire, water; 
but all this is Philosophy, and there is no delirium, if we do 
but speculate the folly and indisputable dotage of avarice to 
that subterraneous Idol, and God of the Earth. I do confess 
I am an Atheist; I cannot perswade myself to honour that 
the World adores; whatsoever virtue its prepared substance 
may have within my body, it hath no influence nor operation 
without. I would not entertain a base design, or an action that 

404 Sir Thomas Browne 

should call me villain, for the Indies; and for this only do I 
love and honour my own soul, and have methinks two arms 
too few to embrace myself. Aristotle is too severe, that will not 
allow us to be truely liberal without wealth, and the bountiful 
hand of Fortune. If this be true, I must confess I am charitable 
t>nly in my liberal intentions, and bountiful well-wishes; but 
if the example of the Mite be not only an act of wonder, but 
an example of the noblest Charity, surely poor men may also 
build Hospitals, and the rich alone have not erected Cathe- 
drals. I have a private method which others observe not; 
I take the opportunity of my self to do good ; I borrow occa- 
sion of Charity from mine own necessities, and supply the 
wants of others, when I am in most need my self: for it is 
an honest stratagem to take advantage of our selves, and so 
to husband the acts of virtue, that, where they are defective 
in one circumstance, they may repay their want and multiply 
their goodness in another. I have not Peru in my desires, but 
a competence, and ability to perform those good works to 
which He hath inclined my nature. He is rich, who hath 
enough to be charitable; and it is hard to be so poor, that a 
noble mind may not find a way to this piece of goodness. He 
that giveth to the poor, lendeth to the LORD: there is more 
Rhetorick in that one sentence, than in a Library of Sermons; 
and indeed, if those Sentences were understood by the Reader, 
with the same Emphasis as they are delivered by the Author, 
we needed not those Volumes of instructions, but might be 
honest by an Epitome. Upon this motive only I cannot behold 
a Beggar without relieving his Necessities with my Purse, or 
his Soul with my Prayers; these scenical and accidental dif- 
ferences between us, cannot make me forget that common 
and untoucht part of us both: there is under these Centoes and 
miserable outsides, these mutilate and semi-bodies, a soul of 
the same alloy with our own, whose Genealogy is GOD as well 
as ours, and in as fair a way to Salvation as our selves. Statists 
that labour to contrive a Common-wealth without poverty, 
take away the object of charity, not understanding only the 

Religio Medici 405 

Common-wealth of a Christian, but forgetting the prophetic 

Now, there is another part of charity, which is the Basis 
and Pillar of this, and that is the love of GOD, for Whom we 
love our neighbour; for this I think charity, to love GOD for 
Himself, and our neighbour for GOD. All that is truly amiable 
is GOD, or as it were a divided piece of Him, that retains a 
reflex or shadow of Himself. Nor is it strange that we should 
place affection on that which is invisible: all that we truly 
love is thus; what we adore under affection of our senses, de- 
serves not the honour of so pure a title. Thus we adore Virtue, 
though to the eyes of sense she be invisible: thus that part 
of our noble friends that we love, is not that part that we 
imbrace, but that insensible part that our arms cannot em- 
brace. GOD, being all goodness, can love nothing but Him- 
self; He loves us but for that part which is as it were Himself, 
and the traduction of His Holy Spirit. Let us call to assize the 
loves of our parents, the affection of our wives and children, 
and they are all dumb shows and dreams, without reality, 
truth, or constancy. For first there is a strong bond of affection 
between us and our Parents; yet how easily dissolved I We 
betake our selves to a woman, forget our mother in a wife, 
and the womb that bare us, in that that shall bear our Image. 
This woman blessing us with children, our affection leaves the 
level it held before, and sinks from our bed unto our issue 
and picture of Posterity, where affection holds no steady 
mansion. They, growing up in years, desire our ends; or apply- 
ing themselves to a woman, take a lawful way to love another 
better than our selves. Thus I perceive a man may be buried 
alive, and behold his grave in his own issue. 

I conclude therefore, and say, there is no happiness under 
(or, as Copernicus will have it, above) the Sun, nor any 
Crambe in that repeated verity and burthen of all the wis- 
dom of Solomon, All is vanity and vexation of Spirit. There 
is no felicity in that the World adores. Aristotle, whilst he 
labours to refute the Idea's of Plato, falls upon one himself; 
for his summum bonum is a Chimaera, and there is no such 

406 Sir Thomas Browne 

thing as his Felicity. That wherein GOD Himself is happy, the 
holy Angels are happy, in whose defect the Devils are un- 
na PPy> that dare I call happiness: whatsoever conduceth unto 
this, may with an easy Metaphor deserve that name; whatso- 
ever else the World terms Happiness, is to me a story out of 
Pliny, a tale of Boccace or Malizspini, an apparition, or neat 
delusion, wherein there is no more of Happiness than the 
name. Bless me in this life with but peace of my Conscience, 
command of my affections, the love of Thy self and my dearest 
friends, and I shall be happy enough to pity Csesar. These are, 
O LORD, the humble desires of my most reasonable ambition, 
and all I dare call happiness on earth; wherein I set no rule 
or limit to Thy Hand or Providence. Dispose of me according 
to the wisdom of Thy pleasure: Thy will be done, though in 
my own undoing.